Blood Pressure

Blood pressure has gotten a bad rap. Some pressure is essential for circulation. Without it, blood couldn't move from the heart to the brain and the toes and back again. The heart provides the driving force — each contraction of the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber, creates a wave of pressure that passes through all the arteries in the body. Relaxed and flexible arteries offer a healthy amount of resistance to each pulse of blood.

But too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Arteries that are tensed, constricted, or rigid offer more resistance. This shows up as higher blood pressure, and it makes the heart work harder. This extra work can weaken the heart muscle over time. It can damage other organs, like the kidneys and the eyes. And the relentless pounding of blood against the walls of arteries causes them to become hard and narrow, potentially setting the stage for a heart attack or stroke.

Most people with high blood pressure (known medically as hypertension) don't know they have it. Hypertension has no symptoms or warning signs. Yet it can be so dangerous to your health and well-being that it has earned the nickname "the silent killer." When high blood pressure is accompanied by high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the damage to the arteries, kidneys, and heart accelerates exponentially.

High blood pressure is preventable. Daily exercise, following a healthy diet, limiting your intake of alcohol and salt, reducing stress, and not smoking are keys to keeping blood pressure under control. When it creeps into the unhealthy range, lifestyle changes and medications can bring it down.

Blood Pressure Articles

Blood pressure targets changing?

New guidelines recommend that for otherwise healthy adults ages 60 or older, high blood pressure treatment should begin when the systolic measurement is at or above 150 millimeters of mercury. More »

Nordic diet linked to lower stroke risk

Following a Nordic diet may help lower the risk of stroke. This eating pattern features fish, whole grains, plus fruits (such as apples and pears) and vegetables (such as carrots and cabbage) popular in Scandinavian countries. More »

Your blood pressure goal: A personalized balancing act

Blood pressure experts are divided about when to start drug therapy for high blood pressure and how aggressive the treatment should be. A target that is lower than the current recommended guideline of 140 mm Hg for the first number (systolic blood pressure) may further lower the risk of heart attack and stroke but cause more side effects. A target above 140 mm Hg may make sense for people ages 60 and older who are otherwise healthy. A personalized treatment approach that considers a person’s age, risk factors, and other health conditions is the best strategy. (Locked) More »

Tips for taking diuretic medications

Diuretics, commonly called "water pills," are the oldest and least expensive class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure. They help the kidneys eliminate sodium and water from the body. This process decreases blood volume, so the heart has less to pump with each beat, which in turn lowers blood pressure. People with heart failure, who often gain weight because their bodies hold onto excess fluid (a condition called edema), are often prescribed diuretic medications.  Not surprisingly, one of the most common side effects of taking water pills is frequent urination. Other possible side effects include lightheadedness, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, and muscle cramps. Men may occasionally experience erectile dysfunction. In addition to getting rid of extra salt in your body, diuretic medications also affect levels of potassium. This mineral plays a key role in controlling blood pressure, as well as nerve and muscle function. In general, your kidneys help regulate potassium levels in your blood. But age, diabetes, heart failure, and certain other conditions may impair kidney function. And while some water pills tend to lower potassium levels, others have the opposite effect. More »

Pill-free ways to lower high blood pressure

Taking medication to treat high blood pressure is just part of the solution. Doctors say lifestyle modification is equally important. Losing weight may lower both systolic and diastolic pressure an average of one point for each pound of weight lost. Getting 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days has the potential to lower systolic blood pressure as much as four to nine points. Other modifications include eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing sodium intake, limiting alcohol, and managing stress. (Locked) More »

Reminder: Don't skip blood pressure medication

Millions of older adults aren’t taking their blood pressure drugs as directed. Ways to combat adherence problems include asking a doctor for less expensive drugs, understanding what a medication is for, and reporting side effects.  More »