BALTIMORE, Md. — They call it the silent killer but one Anne Arundel County man isn't shy about sharing his personal experience with hypertension.
June is Men's Health Month and WMAR-2 News spoke with a doctor at the University of Maryland Medical Center who explained some of the best ways to protect yourself against hypertension is to get your blood pressure checked and to be aware of the risks.
It was January 2019 when Orlando January, a world-traveler, had a life-changing experience right before his 50th birthday.
“It was 2 o’clock in the morning, because I had just sat up, and I felt a ripping in my chest. Didn’t hurt but the pain… I called my son and said hey, I think we should call 911 right now because my back is killing me,” January said.
January recalls the pain felt like he had a slipped disc until he told his doctor he also had a leaking sensation inside his body.
“That was an a-ha moment for him, that he didn’t do an x-ray but a CT scan and he put me in there for maybe five minutes. I came out, and he said ‘Mr. January, you’re in a dire situation. I already called a helicopter, it’s on the way, you need emergency surgery,'” January said.
January was flown to the University of Maryland Medical center and discovered he had what's called an aortic aneurysm or an aortic dissection.
“You have different layers within the aorta, and your veins as well, and it split. Blood started going through that split and it could split on the outside but it’s just split in the middle, in one of the layers, besides the lumen. So that’s very dangerous. Obviously, it’s pretty much emergency surgery,” January said.
University of Maryland Medical Center Hypertension Specialist, Dr. Wallace Johnson, Jr. likens hypertension or high blood pressure to a water house; the tighter you squeeze the nozzle, the higher the water pressure is coming out of the hose.
The causes of hypertension may be environmental, genetic, or hereditary, as well as getting older.
“Joints get stiff, blood vessels get stiff. So, when you see a lot of elderly patients, you’re going to see patients that come in who have the so-called systolic or top number is significantly higher, sometimes than the bottom. For example, coming in with a blood pressure of 160 over 80, or 160 over 70, is a lot more common, when you see people over say 65 versus under 65,” Johnson said.
Hypertension is a sustained increase in high blood pressure with anything higher than 130 over 80 as the number to be concerned.
Dr. Johnson reiterates the importance of a good diet and exercise.
"We need to keep in mind we have to read those labels, the amount of sodium you get is not coming from the salt shaker,” Johnson said.
Exercise can help to relieves stress as well as relax your body
"Exercise has been shown to even have some impact on even relaxing blood vessels in the body. So, the blood vessel that’s right and stiff, and constricted if you will, is of course going to have a higher blood pressure than the blood vessel that is relaxed,” Johnson said.
Dr. Johnson also pointed out the head-to-toe warning signs for hypertension, starting at the top of the body...
“Do you get a lot of unusual headaches that seem to have no explanation. Sometimes people with really high blood pressure will often get headaches. They’ll often be in the rear of their head, for example which is kind of unusual. For example, most sinus headaches will be in the front of the head,” Johnson said.
Many are aware that chest pains is a familiar warning sign.
“Chest pains it seems no other explanation except for potentially something that may be coming from your heart, shortness of breath when you go up a flight of stairs,” Johnson said.
There also might be pain down to the toe.
“My legs hurt. When I have poor circulation in my legs, indicating that the high blood pressure is affecting the blood vessels potentially in your legs, and maybe that might be your first warning sign you might get,” Johnson said.
Those are just a few hypertension warning signs but Dr. Johnson has one last piece of advice.
“When in doubt, check it out,” Johnson said.