11 High Blood Pressure

Perry Fleming


High blood pressure, or hypertension (HTN), is a major problem in the U.S. Currently, 108 million U.S. adults (50%) have been diagnosed with it, and only about 25% have it under control (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020). If not successfully managed, HTN is very dangerous, leading to heart disease or stroke  (Kjeldsen, 2018). Indeed, in 2019 HTN contributed to nearly 500,000 deaths in the U.S. (CDC, 2020). While the risk of developing this disease increases with age, college-aged men are also affected (Kjeldsen 2018). A recent study showed that 27% of men in their twenties were hypertensive (Everett & Zajacova, 2015). Therefore, it is crucial for college-aged men to be informed and take preventative actions early in life.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure that blood puts on the blood vessel walls. If blood pressure is constantly high, it can cause damage to these vessels and promote cardiovascular problems (Stevens et al., 2016). There are four blood pressure categories: normal, stage 1, stage 2, and critical (see figure). Blood pressure is measured by the systolic pressure  (first or top number) and diastolic pressure  (second or bottom number). Specifically, HTN is defined as blood pressure higher than 130/80 mm Hg. Typically, an HTN diagnosis is made by health professionals after several measurements over a period of time. As blood pressure increases, the risk of a sudden heart attack or stroke increases dramatically. Therefore, it is important to keep blood pressure under control. 


“Hypertension ranges chart” by Ian Furst is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

There are two main categories of HTN: essential (also known as primary) and secondary. The majority of patients (95-98%) have essential HTN. For this type, there is no single identifiable cause of the disease, but rather multiple interrelated causes (Beevers et al., 2001). It is most likely that the majority of college-aged males with HTN would fall in the essential HTN group. Secondary HTN, which only 2-5% of patients have, is classified as HTN due to an underlying kidney or adrenal gland disease.

HTN prevalence varies between males and females depending on age. Generally, more men have HTN than women, but there is not always a major difference. Recent data from 2015-2018 showed that in the U.S., more men have HTN up to age 64, but more women have HTN after age 64 (Virani et al., 2020). There are several reasons for the observed age and gender differences in HTN prevalence. One reason is that women are more protected because of the effects of estrogens before menopause. However, other reasons could be due to differences in salt sensitivity between men and women or that men have an increased likelihood of developing problems with their hearts (Doumas et al., 2013).

High Blood Pressure Awareness and Treatment

“Blood Pressure Management” by Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

High blood pressure is often known as the “silent killer” because it is not associated with major symptoms. Many people, including college-aged men, do not even realize they have HTN. A 2015 study found that only 25% of men in their twenties were aware of their hypertensive status (Everett & Zajacova, 2015). Therefore, it is important to get regular blood pressure checks to screen for HTN. It is recommended that adults 18 years or older with normal blood pressure and no risk factors be rescreened every 3-5 years. However, adults ≥40 years old or persons at an increased risk for HTN should be rescreened annually (United States Preventative Services Task Force, 2016).  Several studies have shown that treatment can effectively reduce HTN (Hermida et al., 2013). Unfortunately, less than 50% of people (mostly ≤40 years old) continue to take their medications after one year (Burnier & Egan, 2019). These statistics are mainly due to the perceived side effects of the medications. However, it is best to discuss other treatment methods with a physician rather than having no treatment at all.

Preventing High Blood Pressure

There are many steps men can take to reduce the risk of developing HTN. First, it is essential to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise. It has been found that proper diet and exercise (both aerobic and strength training) are effective at lowering high blood pressure (Jurik & Stastny, 2019). Additionally, there is some evidence that high sodium intake raises blood pressure (He et al., 2012). It is estimated that the average American eats close to 1,000 mg over the recommended sodium intake levels (Strazzullo & Leclercq, 2014). Therefore, it is best to eat fresh produce and minimize large quantities of high-sodium packaged foods.


Overall, it is crucial for men to understand this disease at an early age. Early preventative measures could save men $190,000, which is the average lifetime cost of HTN treatment (Doumas et al., 2013). While HTN is widespread, new technologies are improving HTN treatment. Smartphones and wearable Bluetooth blood pressure measuring devices are becoming increasingly common in HTN management. It is expected that these technologies will continue to develop and can support people with active lifestyles (Kitt et al., 2019). Although treatment is improving, college-aged men should continue to treat this disease seriously, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and educate peers on the dangers of this silent killer.


Chapter Review Questions

1. Which of the following blood pressure measurements are in the critical range?

A. 95/65 mm Hg

B. 120/80 mm Hg

C. 150/90 mm Hg

D. 190/115 mm Hg


2. Which condition is most associated with hypertension?

A. Kidney stones

B. Stroke

C. Lung cancer

D. Sickle cell anemia


3. Why is hypertension known as the silent killer?

A. Patients do not talk about the disease

B. It does not cause major symptoms

C. Doctors cannot hear blood flow

D. It is an infectious disease


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