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

Controlling blood pressure with fewer side effects

Taking smaller doses of several different blood pressure drugs may be just as effective as a full dose of a single drug, with fewer side effects. Many people stop taking blood pressure drugs because of unwanted side effects, which might include weakness, fatigue, or a dry cough. This is one reason only about half of people with high blood pressure have the condition under control. More »

What’s the right blood pressure number for you?

Updated guidelines for treating hypertension in adults ages 60 and older suggest doctors offer treatment for people with no history of heart disease only if their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) is at or above 150 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Yet, instead of focusing on a certain number, many experts believe that the right blood pressure target depends on the individual’s specific health condition. (Locked) More »

Can your blood pressure be too low?

In people with heart disease, lowering systolic blood pressure (the top number) to 120 mm Hg may also lower diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) to less than 70 mm Hg, which is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and death. More »

Elevated blood pressure may not predict early death in those with weak grip strength

Elevated blood pressure is not a useful sign of a high risk of early death among older adults if they have weak grip strength, says a new study. The findings suggest that when an older person still functions at a high level physically, high blood pressure can help indicate mortality risk. However, when the person is not physically robust, high blood pressure may not always be a viable marker. More »

Fainting: Frightening, but seldom serious

Fainting occurs when something interrupts blood flow to the brain, causing a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness. Although usually harmless, fainting can cause injuries and sometimes signals a problem with the heart or circulatory system. Some faints result from a strong emotion (from getting bad news, for example) or excessive straining or coughing. Older people may faint because of low blood pressure when standing up, known as orthostatic hypotension. Other possible causes include a heart rate that’s either too fast or too slow, which may result from electrical abnormalities in the heart, thyroid problems, or certain medications. (Locked) More »

Do premature heart attacks run in your family?

About 12% of people ages 20 and older have a parent or sibling who had a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by narrowed coronary arteries) before the age of 50. Over all, these people are roughly twice as likely to have a heart attack than people without that family history. They should be extra vigilant about monitoring and managing their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Lifestyle habits such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and maintaining a healthy weight may be sufficient, but some people need to take medications. (Locked) More »

Blood pressure drugs and ED: What you need to know

One reason erectile dysfunction (ED) becomes more common with age is that older men are more likely to be on medication, and ED is often a side effect of many common drugs. In fact, it's been estimated that 25% of all ED is caused by medication. Several drugs can produce erectile difficulties, but blood pressure drugs are near the top. ED is an occasional side effect of BP drugs like thiazide diuretics, loop diuretics, and beta-blockers, all of which can decrease blood flow to the penis and make it difficult to get an erection. However, other BP drugs, such as alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and angioten-sin-receptor blockers, rarely cause ED. More »