Recent Blog Articles

Heart Beat: High pulse pressure poses risk for atrial fibrillation

Heart Beat

High pulse pressure poses risk for atrial fibrillation

Arteries, like knuckles and knees, can stiffen with age. When this happens, the heart must contract a bit more forcefully with each beat to circulate blood. This extra work can lead to changes in the size and shape of the muscular lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles, much as lifting weights can do to the arms. If the remodeling also affects the upper chambers, the atria, it can throw off the electrical pathways that generate the "contract now" signals that precede each heartbeat.

One measure of arterial stiffness is pulse pressure — the difference between systolic pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading) and diastolic pressure (the bottom number). Pulse pressures under 40 are normal; the larger they are above that, the more worrisome. Systolic pressure reflects the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts; diastolic pressure, when the heart relaxes.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.