If you’re feeling as healthy as a horse, with no obvious signs of out-of-the-ordinary health issues, there’s no need to go the doctor … right? While that may seem like a perfectly logical rule to live by, when it comes to high blood pressure, skipping your routine checkup isn’t a wise choice—even if you feel no symptoms whatsoever.
“We call [high blood pressure] the silent killer,” says Michelle Weisfelner Bloom, MD, a cardiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center. That’s because high blood pressure often doesn’t show any symptoms. In many cases, when there are high blood pressure symptoms, the hypertension is at an advanced stage and a lot of damage—sometimes even life-threatening—has already been done. (Here’s what your blood pressure number reading means.)
“The problem is that patients don’t always know that they have high blood pressure, and if you don’t know you have it, you haven’t had it treated,” says Dr. Bloom. “And then you’re at an increased risk of developing a problem.”
Untreated high blood pressure affects your entire body. It increases your risk of many health conditions, such as stroke, heart failure, vision loss, erectile dysfunction in men, decreased sex drive in women, and kidney disease.
Malignant hypertension, when the blood pressure is very, very high, is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you feel any of these symptoms, call your doctor or 911:
That’s why it’s critical to get your blood pressure checked routinely, and not wait for a potential high blood pressure symptom to alert you of a problem. If you’re over 40 years old or are at high risk for blood pressure, it’s recommended that you get your blood pressure checked once a year. If you’re between 18 and 40, get your blood pressure checked every three to five years, or per your doctor’s advice.