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Ralphie May's Cause of Death Has Been Revealed. Here's What to Know About It

Ralphie May's Cause of Death Has Been Revealed. Here's What to Know About It
From TIME - December 7, 2017

Two months after comedian Ralphie May was found dead in a Las Vegas private residence, the cause of his death has been revealed. May, 45, died from hypertensive cardiovascular disease, Clark County Coroners office confirmed today to People.

On October 6, the day Mays body was discovered, Mays manager said in a statement that the Last Comic Standing star had been battling pneumonia and had canceled several recent tour dates in an effort to recover. The coroners new diagnosis, however, sheds more light on the underlying cause of Mays health problems, as well as his untimely death.

It can also serve as a reminder that hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) and heart disease can affect people of all agesand that, if left untreated, they can be deadly, even for people in their 40s or younger.

RELATED: 20 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

To learn more about these risks, Health spoke with Dr. Brandy Patterson, an assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Virginia. Patterson did not treat May, but she does have many other patients, including young adults, with high blood pressure and heart disease. Heres what she wants everyone to know about these conditions, including whos most at risk and how you can protect yourself.

Hypertension and heart disease are different, but related

Hypertensive cardiovascular disease, which May was diagnosed with after his death, is a broad term that could mean a few different things, says Patterson. Over time, high blood pressure can lead to heart or vascular disease in several different ways: It can cause hardening of the arteries or a thickening of the heart muscle itself. It can also cause the hearts chambers to become dilated, which keeps it from pumping blood and oxygen effectively.

All of these things make it harder for the heart to work and can lead to heart failure, says Patterson. Clogged arteries can also trigger blood clots, she adds, which can block the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. If the heart muscle is starved of nutrients, that can trigger a heart attack or even death.

Theres good reason hypertension is called the silent killer

Blood pressure, simply put, is the amount of force on the walls of your arteries by the blood flowing through them. If blood pressure gets too high, it strains the walls of the arterieswhich can lead to thickeningand puts excess pressure on the heart.

But one big problem, says Patterson, is that blood pressure isnt something people can feel on a day-to-day basis. Nobody feels the force of blood against their artery walls, she says, so its possible to have no idea this is going on for a long time, until your organs and your heart have been badly damaged.

Nearly half of American adults now have hypertension

Diet, exercise, weight and stress levels affect a persons risk

Know your blood pressure, and your risk factors

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