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

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 »

Prehypertension: Does it really matter?

The category of prehypertension was established to serve as a warning. Those whose blood pressure reading falls in it should work to lower their pressure through diet, exercise, and weight control, though in some cases medication may be prescribed. More »

Take it with a grain of salt

If you are trying to watch your salt intake, pay careful attention to the amount of salt in prepared and processed foods. But not everyone benefits from eating less salt. More »

10 steps for coping with a chronic condition

Dealing with the pain and aggravation of a broken bone or burst appendix isn't easy. But at least there's an end in sight. Once the bone or belly heals, you're pretty much back to normal. That's not true for high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, or other chronic conditions. With no "cure" in sight, they usually last a lifetime. You can live with a chronic condition day to day, responding to its sometimes swiftly changing symptoms and problems. Or you can take charge and manage the disease instead of letting it rule you. More »

Using smartphone apps for heart health

A cell phone or smartphone can do so much more than make calls, send text messages, and play games. Hundreds of heart-related applications are available for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and other smartphones. Many are little more than glorified diaries or pamphlets. A growing number, though, are tapping into the sophisticated technology packed into these phones. Here are a few examples of useful heart-related apps and devices. (Locked) More »