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

Sodium, potassium together influence heart health

Sodium in table salt boosts blood pressure and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Potassium keeps blood pressure in check. A new report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggests that — more sodium than potassium — contributes to heart disease and premature death. Here are some foods rich in potassium and low in sodium. (Locked) More »

August 2011 references and further reading

Lloyd-Jones DM, Hong Y, Labarthe D, Mozaffarian D, Appel LJ, Van Horn L, Greenlund K, Daniels S, Nichol G, Tomaselli GF, Arnett DK, Fonarow GC, Ho PM, Lauer MS, Masoudi FA, Robertson RM, Roger V, Schwamm LH, Sorlie P, Yancy CW, Rosamond WD. Defining and setting national goals for cardiovascular health promotion and disease reduction: the American Heart Association's strategic Impact Goal through 2020 and beyond. Circulation 2010; 121:586-613. Bambs C, Kip KE, Dinga A, Mulukutla SR, Aiyer AN, Reis SE. Low prevalence of "ideal cardiovascular health" in a community-based population: the heart strategies concentrating on risk evaluation (Heart SCORE) study. Circulation 2011; 123:850-7. Folsom AR, Yatsuya H, Nettleton JA, Lutsey PL, Cushman M, Rosamond WD. Community prevalence of ideal cardiovascular health, by the american heart association definition, and relationship with cardiovascular disease incidence. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2011; 57:1690-6. (Locked) More »

Medical memo: Semen quality and survival

How healthy are you, and how does your life expectancy stack up against the average? To answer these questions, your doctor will ask about your smoking, drinking, diet, and exercise. He'll measure your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight or waist size. And he may ask if you're happy or stressed and if you sleep well. These facts and numbers do count; men who rate well in midlife stay healthier and live longer than gents who score poorly. Still, scientists are always looking for additional measurements that predict survival. And research from Denmark proposes an unlikely candidate: semen quality. More »

With rising, a fall in blood pressure

With age, the heart and blood vessels weaken, leading to lower blood pressure when standing up, a condition known as orthostatic hypotension. Insufficient blood to the brain can cause dizziness and blurred vision, and an increased risk of falls. But there are often simple ways to counter the problem. Here are eight things you can do to counter orthostatic hypotension: (Locked) More »

July 2011 references and further reading

Morbidity and Mortality Chart Book, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2009. Myers MG, Godwin M, Dawes M, et al. Conventional versus automated measurement of blood pressure in primary care patients with systolic hypertension: randomised parallel design controlled trial. BMJ 2011; 342:d286. van der Wel MC, Buunk IE, van Weel C, Thien TA, Bakx JC. A novel approach to office blood pressure measurement: 30-minute office blood pressure vs daytime ambulatory blood pressure. Annals of Family Medicine 2011; 9:128-35. (Locked) More »

Measuring blood pressure: Let a machine do it

Participants in a research trial who had their blood pressure taken by a machine had lower readings than those who had their pressure taken by a doctor. No matter who — or what — is measuring your blood pressure, here's what you need to do to get the most accurate reading: (Locked) More »

Music and health

Music can enhance the function of neural networks, slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce levels of stress hormones and inflammatory cytokines, and provide some relief to patients undergoing surgery, as well as heart attack and stroke victims. Researchers are exploring the ways in which music may influence health, from stress relief to athletic performance. (Locked) More »