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

Tips for taking diuretic medications

By Julie CorlissExecutive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter 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. 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 »

Learn how to reduce salt with these 5 tips

By Julie CorlissExecutive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter If you're like most people, chances are you eat far more than the recommended amount of sodium, one of the main components of salt. Current federal guidelines advise getting no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily, but the average American consumes about 3,500 mg a day. More »

Blood pressure: Can it be too low?

Blood pressure readings of 140/80 mm Hg and higher can increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke. But a blood pressure that drops to 120/70 mm Hg or lower because of medications may also be dangerous. This phenomenon is known as the “J curve,” where the bottom of the J represents the ideal range for blood pressure, and values higher or lower are undesirable. When systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) gets too low, people may develop symptoms such as lightheadedness, fainting, and weakness. But low diastolic pressure (the second number in a reading) by itself does not cause any symptoms.  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 »

Monitoring your heart rhythm with a smartphone: A good call?

Smartphone apps that detect possible atrial fibrillation (afib) may one day help improve screening for this common heart rhythm disorder. One app currently under development relies on the phone’s camera and flash to measure color changes in a person’s finger to detect a pulse and any irregularities. Another, which is placed on a user’s chest, relies on the phone’s internal sensors that track speed, movement, and orientation.  (Locked) More »

What is venous insufficiency?

Venous insufficiency, which happens when veins don’t work properly, can cause swelling, pain, and a sense of heaviness in the legs. Elevating the legs when sitting or lying down can help; so can support stockings.  (Locked) More »