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.
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Polyarteritis nodosa is a rare, but potentially life threatening, inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis) that damages the walls of the body's small- and medium-sized arteries. This damage slows the supply of blood and nourishment to the arteries, causing nearby tissue in many parts of the body to be injured or even destroyed. The disease most commonly affects the kidneys, the nerves of the arms and legs and the abdominal organs, although it can also involve the skin, joints, muscles, brain, heart, eyes and reproductive organs.
Edema is swelling of both legs from a buildup of extra fluid. Edema has many possible causes:
Prolonged standing or sitting, especially in hot weather, can cause excess fluid to accumulate in the feet, ankles and lower legs.
Tiny valves inside the veins of the legs can become weakened, causing a common problem called venous insufficiency. This problem makes it more difficult for the veins to pump blood back to the heart, and leads to varicose veins and buildup of fluid.
Severe chronic (long-term) lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, increase pressure in the blood vessels that lead from the heart to the lungs. This pressure backs up in the heart. The higher pressure causes swelling in the legs and feet.
Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart can no longer pump efficiently, causes fluid buildup in the lungs and other parts of the body. Swelling is often most visible in the feet and ankles.
Pregnancy can cause edema in the legs as the uterus puts pressure on the vena cava, a major blood vessel that returns blood to the heart from the legs. Fluid retention during pregnancy also can be caused by a more serious condition called preeclampsia.
Low protein levels in the blood caused by malnutrition, kidney and liver disease can cause edema. The proteins help to hold salt and water inside the blood vessels so fluid does not leak out into the tissues. If a blood protein, called albumin, gets too low, fluid is retained and edema occurs, especially in the feet, ankles and lower legs.
Blood pressure has two components:
Systolic pressure is the top number. It represents the pressure the heart generates when it beats to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Diastolic pressure is the bottom number. It refers to the pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). So blood pressure would be expressed, for example, as 120/80 mmHg.
High blood pressure is diagnosed when one or both of these numbers is too high. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.
Blood pressure is categorized as follows:
Normal: Less than 120/80 mmHg
Prehypertension: 120/80 to 139/89 mmHg
Stage 1 hypertension: 140/90 to 159/99 mmHg
Stage 2 hypertension: 160/100 mmHg and above
Usually, systolic pressure increases as we age. However, after age 60, diastolic pressure usually begins to decline.
Prehypertension is not a disease—yet. But it does mean you are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure.
Although high blood pressure can cause symptoms such as headache and pounding heartbeat, it often causes no symptoms at all.