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With recently published research reporting that high blood pressure is the leading health risk worldwide, a massive number of individuals may be experiencing internal damage without even knowing it.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is dangerous because it can damage your heart, kidney and blood vessels, according to Scottsdale Healthcare cardiologist Dr. Robert Burke, who noted such damage paves the way for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and other health issues.

"There are typically no symptoms with high blood pressure, so this damage can happen without you knowing," he said.

Given the silent nature of hypertension, experts encourage individuals to know their blood pressure numbers and have their blood pressure taken regularly. This is especially important if you have a family history of high blood pressure, have diabetes, are obese or smoke, all which are risk factors for high blood pressure.

When blood pressure is taken, the reading indicates how much force is placed against the walls of your arteries as blood flows through your system. Ongoing readings of 140/90 or higher for adults are considered to be high blood pressure and mean the blood is pushing too hard.

"When you stop and consider some of the risk factors, it's easy to understand why adopting a healthy lifestyle is so important," said Burke.

He recommends a low-fat diet with plenty of vegetables, quitting smoking, getting exercise, controlling your blood sugar if you have diabetes, limiting alcohol and managing stress to help control hypertension. A variety of medications also are available and can play a role in treating high blood pressure.

The research, which examined life expectancy and health risks globally, was published online Nov. 13 by the journal Lancet.

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