Condition caused by stress could be affecting you, and you don't even know about it

Published: May. 2, 2017 at 7:08 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) --- Is your daily life stressful? Do you feel like even a doctor's visit could calm you down? You're not alone.

A hidden condition caused by that stress could be affecting you.

A healthy lifestyle is no feat for Connie Kilmark.

"I've always been an active person," Kilmark says. "I was a dancer. I was a long distance runner for many years. I enjoy moving."

So she was concerned when she had to go to urgent care for a nose bleed.

"I couldn't get it to stop," she explains. "I probably went through a box of tissues, and by the time I got to the clinic I had lost a considerable amount of blood."

Doctors noticed her blood pressure was high. After taking a break from her normal routine, she returned to diet and exercise.

"They did a few other things, but I chalked it up to the fact that I had not been practicing my good routines of aerobic exercise for a time," Connie explains

But when she went for a follow-up, another high reading.

"Something's up because I'm getting readings that are just not me," she remembers.

After a few more tests, it was discovered. Connie had masked hypertension.

"It turned out that not only did I have significant hypertension, but I had had it apparently for a long time and there had been some damage to the left atrium of my heart," she says.

"Long-term exposure of our blood vessels to high blood pressure can cause heart damage, heart muscle weakening," Dr. Heather Johnson, a UW Health cardiologist, explains. "It can also cause damage to our kidneys. It may cause changes to our eye vessels."

Dr. Johnson says many people don't know about this hypertension because their blood pressure is fine when they go to the doctor but high during their everyday routine.

"They're able to take a break from the stresses of their everyday lives," she says.

That's certainly true for Connie. She is the guardian of her adult autistic daughter, taking care of an elderly family friend and is also a financial counselor.

"I wonder whether there are some of us who have very high stress lives who actually decompress in medical settings, because that's one of the few places where I feel like other grownups are on duty and I can sort of trust that I'm not the person that's responsible," she says. "I'm not the main grownup in charge."

Currently 10% to 15% of people in the U.S. have masked hypertension, but Dr. Johnson says there could be more. They just don't know it.

"Regardless of how diligently you manage your lifestyle, this can still happen to you," Connie warns

We're most formally known with hypertension which is high blood pressure by itself.

Another form is white coat hypertension. That's when doctors say a patient experiences high blood pressure while at the doctor's office.

This one, masked hypertension, is the opposite of that. It's at a normal rate in the doctor's office but high in everyday settings.