When a veteran or soldier is affected by hypertension, it means that the blood pressure within their arteries is frequently at levels that are higher than normal.  This would be expected considering the stress they are under; however it can also pose serious health risks.  

Each time your heart beats, it pushes or pumps blood throughout the body's arteries. A soldier's blood pressure refers to the level of pressure that is being exerted on the walls of their blood vessels.  When your blood pressure reaches a level that is higher than normal, your heart is forced to work harder to circulate blood throughout your body.

Your blood pressure should be at 120/80 or below.  120 is the systolic measurement (the high level in the arteries) and 80 is the diastolic measurement (the low level in the arteries). If a soldier or veteran's blood pressure registers between 120/80 and 139/89, it is possible that they may be diagnosed with prehypertension.  If a soldier or veteran's blood pressure registers frequently at 140/90 or above, they may be diagnosed with hypertension.

Long-term effects of hypertension in veterans can cause heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, or heart failure.  In the United States, nearly 75 million adults and approximately 2 million children and teens suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure.  Veterans and soldiers that see multiple tours of combat are about 1/3 more likely to fall into this category, and veterans or soldiers that witnessed death while on active duty were 50% more likely to develop high blood pressure.  

"What are some additional causes of hypertension in veterans?"

  • Multiple combat tours
  • Smoking
  • Overweight
  • Diabetes 
  • Exposure to certain defoliants or herbicides such as Agent Orange (Vietnam veterans)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • High salt intake
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • High, frequent alcohol intake
  • Frequent high stress situations
  • Family history of high blood pressure  

"What are the signs and symptoms associated with hypertension?"

A soldier or veteran will not always show visible signs of hypertension or high blood pressure.  In fact, nearly 1/3 of the people who have high blood pressure are unaware of it.  This is why it's important to see a physician for regular check-ups, especially if the veteran or soldier has seen combat.  

Veterans and soldiers should be aware of the following signs of hypertension:

  • Chronic and intense headaches
  • Abnormal or excessive fatigue
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty with vision, trouble focusing on objects
  • Chest pain in non-physical exerting situations
  • Problem catching your breath or trouble breathing under normal situations
  • Irregular, fast or abnormal heartbeat
  • Blood in urine

If any of these signs or symptoms are present and are unexplained, they should not be ignored.  Getting regular blood pressure readings can help catch high blood pressure early and assist the veteran's doctor in properly and adequately treating the problem. 

"What treatments are available to veterans with hypertension?"

There are several treatments for high blood pressure.  Your physician may prescribe you blood pressure medication; order lifestyle changes, which include losing weight, quit smoking, changing your diet, beginning an exercise regimen, and/or limiting the amount of alcohol that is consumed. 

Lifestyle changes are independent to the specific veteran--what works for one person, may not work for another.  Your doctor will be able to tailor a course of treatment specific to your needs to manage the combat-related hypertension.  

Even though high blood pressure can be debilitating, the veteran's disability can be managed with appropriate treatment and lifestyle changes. 

Lastly, a veteran suffering from the effects of hypertension should always speak with a qualified veteran's disability lawyer.  It's possible that you may be entitled to compensation and disability payments. 

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller