Hypertension, often referred to as “high blood pressure”, is abnormally high blood pressure of the arteries.
A good way to picture high blood pressure is to imagine pumping too much air into an inflatable device. Keep on doing this and eventually the inflatable device will suffer excessive wear and tear, and ultimately it will rupture.
There are two main types of hypertension: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension constitutes 95% of all hypertension occurrences and its cause is unknown. Secondary hypertension is caused by a malfunctioning kidney, endocrine or nervous system and is not as common as primary hypertension.
There are two types of hypertension pressures: systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is the arterial blood pressure when the heart is contracted, while diastolic pressure is the arterial pressure when the heart is relaxed (expanded and filled with blood).
Normal Hypertension Readings
Blood pressure is expressed as systolic pressure followed by diastolic pressure, with systolic pressure being the higher of the two since the heart is exerting force as opposed to being relaxed. Pressures are measured in standard millimeters of mercury, and the following are normal blood pressures for the given age ranges and demographics:
- Majority of people: less than 140 mmHg/90 mmHg.
- Elderly that are more than 80 years old: less than 150 mmHg/90 mmHg.
- Most diabetics: less than 130 mmHg/80 mmHg.
Health Effects of High Blood Pressure
Hypertension puts excessive strain on the heart since it has to work harder than normal to pump the same amount of blood throughout the body. This can result in all sorts of health complications.
High blood pressure can lead to:
- Arteriosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries.
- Aneurisms, which are hardening and thickening of arterial walls. Note that aneurisms can burst, leading to internal bleeding and possibly loss of life.
- Heart disease.
- Coronary artery disease (where narrowed arteries cannot transmit the blood quick enough).
- An enlarged left heart, which increases the possibility of heart attack.
- Heart failure.
- Transient ischemic attacks (TIA), also known as mini-strokes.
- Kidney failure, scarring and kidney artery aneurisms.
When a life insurance company “underwrites” a life insurance application they look at the applicant’s medical history as well as the life style of the applicant (e.g. any dangerous or unhealthy activities).
The following are the main factors that are examined during the underwriting process when processing a life insurance application from a person with hypertension:
- Age of applicant (people under 30 years old with hypertension are scrutinized very closely since high blood pressure for people under 30 is rare).
- Date that the high blood pressure was diagnosed (2 years of readings are often needed to get a standard rating).
- The type of hypertension (primary or secondary, with primary being less dangerous).
- Any medications and treatment (treated is better than untreated).
- Any adverse reactions to medications or treatment.
- Applicant’s current blood pressure.
- Stability of blood pressure indicated by steady readings over a substantial period of time (2 years of stability is ideal).
- Compliance (and non-compliance) with medical treatments and scheduled follow ups.
- Presence of other health issues that are related to hypertension such as cardiovascular disease, any strokes or kidney disease.
All people with high blood pressure must submit a Vitals report from a registered medical professional that has their height, weight and blood pressure. In addition the results of a recent Medical Examination are also required.
Speeding Up an Application
To facilitate processing of a life insurance application and avoid any undue delays the applicant should have the following information ready to go:
- All records of blood pressure readings. The longer the history the better for the applicant if blood pressure has stabilized.
- Results of any heart examinations.
- Details of life style modifications that help to alleviate hypertension (e.g. started walking, any sort of exercising, changes to diet, etc.).
Most Likely Underwriting Decisions
The most likely underwriting decisions for an applicant with hypertension are:
- Standard rates if hypertension is well controlled using medication and life style changes. Many life insurance companies are looking for at least 12 months to 2 years of stable readings.
- Standard rates times a risk factor (e.g. a premium increase) if blood pressure has been stable only for a short amount of time (e.g. couple of months). Note: life insurance companies tend to regard high blood pressure differently, with some companies being more lenient than others.
- Exclusion (turned down) if blood pressure is still dangerously high or has not been stable for a long enough period of time.
Important: make sure you shop around if you have hypertension and want life insurance. As mentioned above, there is quite a bit of variation on how life insurance companies view hypertension!
People with hypertension can still get life insurance coverage at a standard rate if the high blood pressure has been stabilized for anywhere from 1 to 2 years.
If hypertension has just been stabilized then there are two possible choices: try to get life insurance coverage now and put up with the higher premiums, or wait until the high blood pressure has been stabilized for at least 1 year before applying, in which case standard rates are possible.
As Canadian life insurance brokers it is our responsibility to know about the differences between life insurance plans and companies. Feel free to call us at 1-866-369-4474 if you have hypertension and want to purchase life insurance protection.