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

Arm-to-arm variations in blood pressure may warrant attention

Roll up both sleeves the next time you check your blood pressure at home or have it measured by a health care provider. Why? A difference of 15 points or greater between the two arms can signal the presence of peripheral artery disease or an increased risk of having a stroke or dying from cardiovascular disease. More »

Everyday foods are top sources of sodium

Everyday foods like bread, cold cuts, pizza, and poultry were the four leading sources of sodium in the American diet in 2007–2008, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Locked) More »

Checking blood pressure: Do try this at home

  Your blood pressure changes from hour to hour, sometimes even minute to minute. Standing up from a chair, watching an exciting show on television, eating a meal, listening to soothing music, being stressed — even the time of day — influence your blood pressure. It jumps around so much that you are more likely to get a "normal" reading if you check it at home rather than in the doctor's office. The American Heart Association (AHA), American Society of Hypertension, and Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association urge individuals with high blood pressure, or at high risk for developing it, to become blood pressure do-it-yourselfers. There are many good reasons to follow their advice: More »

Beta blockers: Cardiac jacks of all trades

Beta blockers are useful in treating a variety of cardiovascular conditions including angina, heart failure, and high blood presure. This medication spotlight looks at how beta blockers work, who can benefit from them, and what to expect if you take one. More »

November 2011 references and further reading

Cordero A, Bertomeu-Gonzalez V, Moreno-Arribas J, Agudo P, Lopez-Palop R, Masia MD, Miralles B, Mateo I, Quiles J, Bertomeu-Martinez V. Burden of systemic hypertension in patients admitted to cardiology hospitalization units. American Journal of Cardiology, published online Aug. 24, 2011. Salisbury AC, Amin AP, Reid KJ, Wang TY, Masoudi FA, Chan PS, Alexander KP, Bach RG, Spertus JA, Kosiborod M. Hospital-acquired anemia and in-hospital mortality in patients with acute myocardial infarction. American Heart Journal 2011; 162:300-309 e3. Salisbury AC, Kosiborod M, Amin AP, Reid KJ, Alexander KP, Spertus JA, Masoudi FA. Recovery From Hospital-Acquired Anemia After Acute Myocardial Infarction and Effect on Outcomes. American Journal of Cardiology 2011. (Locked) More »

The hidden burden of high blood pressure

High blood pressure imposes an up-front burden in people who know they have it and who are working to control it. It adds to worries about health. It alters what you eat and how active you are. High blood pressure often requires you to take one or more pills a day, which can be a costly hassle. There are long-term consequences, too. High blood pressure contributes to the development of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney disease. Because of all the ways hypertension interferes with health, the average life span for people with it is five years shorter than it is for those with normal blood pressure.  (Locked) More »