Hypertension expert answers questions in Twitter chat

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Debra J. Barksdale, Ph.D.
Debra J. Barksdale, Ph.D.

As part of a month-long series devoted to heart health and in recognition of American Heart Month, Virginia Commonwealth University hosted a Twitter chat about hypertension with Debra J. Barksdale, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of academic programs in the VCU School of Nursing.

Hypertension is a long-term medical condition in which blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated. The disease usually does not cause symptoms initially, but if left untreated it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. Hypertension can also cause damage to the kidneys and increase risk of blindness and dementia. It is often referred to as a silent killer because of its lack of signs and symptoms.

About 70 million American adults have high blood pressure, accounting for one in every three adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about half of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.

Barksdale’s research focuses on stress and cardiovascular disease in the African-American community and her former National Institutes of Health-funded study, titled “Hypertension in Black Americans: Environment, Behavior, and Biology,” explores the underlying hemodynamic determinants of hypertension. During her Twitter chat, she discussed ways to prevent hypertension, treatment for the disease and more. VCU hosts Twitter chats with medical experts on a variety of topics. Stay engaged with the conversation by following @VCUHealth on Twitter and searching for the hashtag #VCUHealthChat.

Below are Barksdale’s replies to some of the questions raised on Twitter.


What is hypertension?

Hypertenson is diagnosed when blood pressure remains high over a period of time. Blood pressure is the force or pressure that is created in the arterial vessels when the heart beats.

Is hypertension the same as high blood pressure?

The two are used interchangeably, but not everyone that has high blood pressure receives the diagnosis hypertension. Everyone’s blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day, but those with hypertension have sustained high blood pressure.

Why should we be concerned about hypertension?

If left untreated, hypertension contributes to damage of the heart and coronary arteries. It is also associated with stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, heart pain, erectile dysfunction and fluid in the lungs. Hypertension has even been associated with memory loss. Sleep apnea can also be associated with hypertension.

Factors that we can control include weight, smoking, cholesterol, physical activity, alcohol and stress.

What causes high blood pressure/hypertension?

While exact causes are unknown, there are a number of things associated with the cause of high blood pressure and hypertension. Some factors we can control and some we cannot. The factors we cannot control include older age, heredity and gender. Women have higher blood pressure rates than men starting at age 65. Factors that we can control include weight, smoking, cholesterol, physical activity, alcohol and stress.

How do I prevent high blood pressure/hypertension?

Maintain a healthy weight. More than 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Work with your primary care provider or nutritionist to determine the best weight for you. Engage in physical activity. The recommendation is 30 to 45 minutes on most days. Try taking a walk during lunch break, take the stairs or park further away at the grocery store. Little things add up. Another thing you can do to prevent high blood pressure is to eat a healthy diet. Specifically, reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. A healthy diet consists of about 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. A teaspoon contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Most people eat on average 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is quite a bit more than we need. Reduce or stop smoking and alcohol intake and get sufficient sleep.

What populations are more prone to hypertension?

African-Americans have the highest prevalence of blood pressure in the world. The very highest prevalence is African-American women followed by African-American men. It is believed that there is a gene in African-Americans that is associated with hypertension and how they process salt.

Do children get high blood pressure?

Yes, children can get high blood pressure. Rates have been increasing and it is important to get children screened. The same preventative measures apply to children: diet, exercise and weight.

Where can I find more information about high blood pressure/hypertension?

My favorite resource can be found on the American Heart Association website and American Heart Virginia’s healthy living section. You can find interactive tools, brochures and handouts, recipes and guidelines at the American Heart Association’s website.


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