DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have high blood pressure, or so I am told. I don’t have a single symptom. I feel quite well, and I am quite active.

My doctor has started me on medicine, and the thought of having to take pills makes me sicker than the thought of having high blood pressure does. What would be the harm in putting off treatment until I can tell that something is wrong? – A.H.

That would be foolish in the extreme. High blood pressure never has any symptoms when it first starts. That’s what makes it such a dangerous condition. When symptoms arise, irreparable damage has occurred.

Hypertension – high blood pressure – is the most common chronic illness in Canada and the United States. At least one-third of adults have it. Many of them don’t know because, just like you, they feel fine. But they aren’t fine. Their pressure must be lowered if they are to stay healthy and lead a long life.

Untreated high blood pressure sets people up for heart attacks and strokes. It accelerates artery hardening. It leads to kidney and heart failure. It is one cause of dementia. All of these consequences are preventable by control of pressure.

The definition of high blood pressure has recently changed. Normal pressure now is one that is less than 120 over 80. Pressures of 120 to 139 over 80 to 89, once thought of as being normal, are now called prehypertension. People whose pressure is in these ranges need to take action by reducing salt intake, losing weight, exercising and limiting the use of alcohol.

Smoking has to stop. Smoking one cigarette raises blood pressure for 15 to 30 minutes. Smoking many cigarettes can keep it elevated throughout the day.

Pressures above 140 over 90 often must be treated with the above life changes and often with medicines.

Taking a pill or two a day is not much of a price to pay for not having a heart attack or stroke.

The booklet on high blood pressure explains this common malady. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue, No. 104, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have quizzed my doctors about a blood test that can indicate the possibility of a seizure happening. Neither my internist nor my neurologist would give me an answer.

Specific results of blood tests indicate diabetes, heart disease and liver malfunction. Why are there no such tests for seizures?

I would appreciate picking up the paper one day and finding an answer to my inquiry. I am not out to confront either of my doctors. – M.G.

I take your question to mean, “Is there a blood test for epilepsy”? There is no such test. The fact that there isn’t one shouldn’t surprise you. There are far more illnesses in medicine that don’t have specific blood tests than there are illnesses that have a specific blood test. If every illness had its own blood test, the practice of medicine would be a snap.

Epilepsy is diagnosed by patients telling the doctor what has happened (the history) and by special tests like brain wave recordings – an electroencephalogram, an EEG.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My cholesterol is normal. Does that mean I don’t have any heart or artery disease? I am 84 and feel great. I take no medicines. By the way, I have smoked a pack of cigarettes every day since I was 15. – K.R.

A normal cholesterol level isn’t a promise of immunity to a heart attack or to artery clogging. Cholesterol has become such a touchstone of health that we forget other important aspects – diet, activity, genes, blood pressure and on and on.

You’re lucky that smoking hasn’t caused you any health consequences after 69 years of puffing. Don’t press your luck. It’s never too late to stop.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have been married to my husband for almost 50 years. I know he has been faithful. I have been faithful.

About 20 years into our marriage, I got herpes. Can you get this from oral sex when the partner has a fever blister? – Anon.

Fever blisters or cold sores, whatever you want to call them, are infections with the herpes-1 virus. Once the virus enters the body, it never leaves. It surfaces every now and then when the circumstances are right for it.

Genital herpes infections are the work of the herpes-2 virus. They surface every now and again too.

Yes, it is possible for the herpes virus of a fever blister to infect the genital region through oral sex. The infection of a genital herpes-1 infection looks the same as an infection with the herpes-2 virus.

A person can also transfer the herpes-1 virus from a cold sore to his or her genital area by touching the cold sore and subsequently touching the genital area. The virus sticks to the fingers.

This is a question that comes up with much regularity and always with questions of the partner’s faithfulness. It has threatened marriages.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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