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In Medicine, What Is the Silent Killer?

Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks.
High blood pressure is often called the silent killer.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2014
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Numerous medical conditions are referred to as silent killers because they do not generate any symptoms, fooling patients into thinking that they are healthy until they experience an abrupt decline as a result of their medical problems. The most famous silent killer is probably high blood pressure, thanks to an extensive campaign by the American Heart Association which was designed to capture the attention of the general public to popularize routine blood pressure testing. In addition to high blood pressure, a number of cancers are often referred to as silent killers, along with starvation.

When a patient has high blood pressure, he or she does not experience symptoms. The American Heart Association estimates that up to one third of people living with high blood pressure are unaware of the fact that their blood pressure is high, and many people are unaware of the risks of high blood pressure. If hypertension, as high blood pressure is also known, is allowed to persist, the patient can develop serious medical complications which may eventually lead to death.

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This silent killer can cause strokes, kidney failure, heart attacks, and cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure can be very easy to manage, especially if it is caught early, before the patient's blood pressure has risen too high. Diet and exercise can often be utilized to bring blood pressure back down to healthy levels, and medications which are designed to lower blood pressure are also available. Simply having blood pressure in a healthy range can radically reduce someone's risk of developing future health problems.

Hypertension can also be dangerous during pregnancy, making high blood pressure a concern among obstetricians. Because people are often poorly informed about the risks of high blood pressure, pregnant women may not understand the importance of monitoring and controlling blood pressure and they can experience complications as a result. Many obstetricians make a point of discussing the silent killer with their patients during an early medical appointment so that women can take steps to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Education campaigns about the silent killer have stressed the fact that it is easy to check blood pressure; many pharmacies have machines for testing blood pressure, for example, and people can also test their pressure at home. Getting a blood pressure check is also a routine part of medical examinations, and many education programs slyly promote regular medical checkups by reminding patients that they can get their blood pressure checked during a basic physical exam. A physical exam can also identify another silent killer which may be causing problems for a patient who is totally unaware of the issue.

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pleonasm
Post 3

@browncoat - Yeah, I would hate for someone to dismiss symptoms because they didn't want to get stressed, or to make a big fuss over nothing.

There was a woman a few years ago who was told by her doctor that she was just stressed when she started getting dizzy and having headaches and things like that. Luckily she recognized her symptoms on a TV show as carbon monoxide poisoning (another silent killer) and managed to get treated and fix the leak before she died from it.

browncoat
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - Ironically, I thought stress was one of the things known as the silent killer in medicine because it has been linked to all kinds of disease. And people can get overly stressed about medical issues.

But disease is extremely common and it's not unreasonable to expect that you'll have to deal with some kind of condition at some point in your life, particularly once you start getting older. I think it's a matter of getting the right balance between being vigilant about health and being stressed over it.

lluviaporos
Post 1

It's a good thing for people to be aware of potential "silent killers" but I also think that they get a little bit overstated these days. I tend to think almost any kind of tiny symptom means much more than it actually does because I'm perpetually on the lookout for all these potentially deadly diseases that I might be suffering from right now.

The thing is, as long as you get regular checkups you are probably going to be fine. It's when people go for years and years without getting checked or ignore obvious symptoms that they end up dying from preventable disease. And, yes there might be some diseases that don't have symptoms at all, but the chances are that you won't catch them even if you do go to the doctor, because the doctor needs to be able to check symptoms as well.

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