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

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 »

Gloomy forecast on heart disease

The American Heart Association is predicting significant increases in heart disease among baby boomers, along with associated health care costs. Following better health habits can help prevent heart disease. In a report, the AHA offers a gloomy forecast for cardiovascular disease in 2030: high blood pressure, up 10%; heart disease, up 17%; heart failure and stroke, each up 25%. If the projections are accurate, today's 81 million American adults with cardio vascular disease will swell to 110 million by 2030; the cost of treating them will balloon to $818 billion. Here are proven strategies for protecting the heart and arteries: (Locked) More »

Take your pills

One of every three adults in our country has high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure. Most cases could be prevented by simple lifestyle measures such as dietary salt restriction, weight control, and moderate exercise. A study of men with newly diagnosed hypertension underlines the importance of regularly taking the medication prescribed by your doctor. (Locked) More »

In Brief

Brief updates on coughing as a side effect of a type of blood pressure medication, waist circumference as an indicator of longevity, and a possible correlation between multiple miscarriages and increased risk of heart attack. (Locked) More »