High blood pressure is a cause of serious chronic illness and sudden death, which is why it’s so important for people to know if they have it — but often, there are no symptoms until it is too late.

High blood pressure leads to damaged arteries and the development of heart disease, kidney disease, eye injury and increased risk of stroke.

During National High Blood Pressure Education Month in May, the American Medical Group Foundation is hosting the first “Measure Up/Pressure Down National Day of Action: Roll Up Your Sleeves” on May 15. Mercy is supporting the initiative and encouraging people to have their blood pressure checked.

“The first step to beating high blood pressure is finding out if you have it,” said Mercy Clinic cardiologist, Joseph Polizzi, MD. “Get your blood pressure checked by a health care professional and have it checked at least once a year.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 67 million American adults have high blood pressure. About one third of those don’t know it.

Symptoms of high blood pressure mimic other illnesses and can eventually elevate to a crisis including severe headache, fatigue, confusion, chest pain, difficulty breathing, a pounding feeling in the chest, neck or ears. A blood pressure crisis can also turn into a heart attack or stroke.

People most at risk for high blood pressure are those with a family history, advancing age (45 and older), those who lack physical activity, have a poor diet, are overweight and consume too much salt and alcohol.