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

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken-heart syndrome)

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also called broken-heart syndrome, is a weakening of the left ventricle that is usually the result of severe stress. Its symptoms resemble those of a heart attack, and treatment is usually the same as that for heart failure, possibly beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics (water pills). More »

Strategies for cutting back on salt

The Institute of Medicine's newly released report, Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States, focuses on big-picture strategies for reining in America's salt habit. Although the report's recommendations represent an essential step forward, there are many things that individuals, chefs, and organizations can do right now to reduce sodium. Many of these guidelines offer a "stealth health" approach to sodium reduction — ways that sodium can be reduced with no change or minimal change to consumer food experiences or choices. Others suggest ways to rebalance and re-imagine food choices as well as introduce new foods that can easily translate into satisfying meals. More »

Out in the cold

Winter can be tough on the body, with increased rates of respiratory diseases and cardiac events, but cold weather also helps stimulate the body's calorie-burning fat. Dutch researchers reported findings in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 that showed that moderately cool temperatures of 61? F activated brown fat in 23 of 24 study volunteers. No one is suggesting that cold weather be used for dieting purposes (not yet anyway). But when we get chilled this winter, we may take some consolation that at least we're firing up those brown fat cells. More »

Sporadic high blood pressure deserves attention

Monitoring your blood pressure by taking daily readings at home over a period of time can provide a more accurate sense of your true pressure than a reading in the doctor's office, which may be artificially high or low. More »

Experts call for home blood pressure monitoring

  About 73 million Americans — nearly half of them women — have hypertension (high blood pressure), a condition that propels blood too forcefully through blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney damage. If you have hypertension or borderline hypertension, you should be checking your blood pressure at home on a regular basis. That's the major recommendation in a joint statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Society of Hypertension (ASH), and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA). The expert panel that issued the statement was chaired by Dr. Thomas G. Pickering of Columbia University. The statement itself was jointly published online May 22, 2008, in the journal Hypertension and the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing and in print in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension (May 2008) and the Journal of Clinical Hypertension (June 2008). Although other guidelines on managing hypertension have endorsed home blood pressure monitoring, this is the first time experts have given detailed advice about its use. More »

Medications for treating hypertension

Doctors once hesitated to prescribe medication until a patient's blood pressure reached 160/100. Anything below that level was deemed "mild hypertension" and not considered dangerous, so many doctors worried that the drugs' potential side effects might outweigh their benefits. These perceptions turned out to be false. Research has firmly established the value of treating stage 1 hypertension (140/90 to 159/99 mm Hg) with drugs, if necessary. For those with diabetes or kidney disease, medications may be necessary at pressures as low as 130/80. And today, blood pressure can be controlled with lower doses of medications, meaning there is less chance of side effects. Doctors can choose from an abundant selection of antihypertensive medications, including many preparations that combine one or more drugs. Many newer antihypertensive drugs have a slightly different chemical structure from older drugs but produce nearly identical effects in the body. Others act in entirely different ways. Doctors can tailor treatment to the individual patient and can often prescribe a drug that controls blood pressure, produces few or no side effects, and, hopefully, protects against complications. In addition, it's often possible to use a single medication to treat both the hypertension and accompanying medical problems, like congestive heart failure. (Locked) More »

Optimism and your health

Numerous studies have shown an association between a positive, optimistic life outlook and lower risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease, as well as better overall health and improved longevity. More »