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

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 »

Blood vessel disease linked to dementia

Blood vessel problems can have a significant effect on the health of the brain, including contributing to the development of dementia. Improving and safeguarding blood flow to and through the brain should help delay, minimize, or even prevent memory loss well into old age. The steps you take to protect the arteries in your heart and keep them healthy should do the same thing in your brain. These include controlling blood pressure, exercising, and eating a healthy diet. (Locked) More »