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

Drugs may not be best for mild high blood pressure

Blood pressure medicines can reduce heart attacks, strokes, and deaths in people with moderate to severe high blood pressure, but according to one study, they may not significantly reduce heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, or deaths in those with milder elevations in blood pressure. Women with mildly elevated blood pressure may want to try nondrug interventions for lowering blood pressure—such as diet, exercise, and stress management—before turning to medications. (Locked) More »

Hypertension? You're not alone

A third of all Americans have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than half of them don’t have their blood pressure under control. This is because many people do not have a primary care physician or health insurance, and because blood pressures are often not routinely measured in doctors’ offices. Everyone should have his or her blood pressure checked routinely, especially those who are overweight or obese, living a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, eating a high-sodium diet, drinking too much alcohol, or frequently feeling stressed. When it comes to hypertension medication, some experimenting may be needed to find the right combination. (Locked) More »

ACE inhibitors may lower pneumonia risk

A recent study found an additional benefit to angiotensin-converting–enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which help relax blood vessels and can help lower blood pressure. Researchers found that ACE inhibitors are also associated with a significant reduction in pneumonia risk. (Locked) More »

When should we treat blood pressure?

Blood pressure–lowering medications are known to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people whose blood pressure has risen above 160 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Among those with lower but still elevated blood pressure, the presence of other cardiovascular risk factors is being used as a guide for whether individuals should begin taking medication. In people whose risk might be slightly elevated, many doctors now prescribe one or two antihypertension medications in an effort to lower the risk. (Locked) More »

When headaches won't go away

Women are three times more likely than men to get migraine headaches, in part because of the hormone estrogen. A number of different medications are available to prevent migraine and stop them when they first start. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Should I buy a blood pressure monitor?

If you have high blood pressure, it makes sense to buy a blood pressure monitor and check your blood pressure at home. This gives a more accurate view of your blood pressure than intermittent office-based readings or the occasional check. (Locked) More »

The dangers of pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary arterial hypertension occurs when arteries that supply the lungs become stiff and thick. The most common symptom is mild shortness of breath, although women tend to feel fatigued as well. Other symptoms can include dizziness, fainting, chest pain, and swollen legs and ankles. Because the symptoms are common, individuals are often diagnosed first with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is not until they fail to improve with treatment that pulmonary artery hypertension is considered. New medications plus fluid management, exercise, a low-salt diet, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, and adequate sleep are extending life for people with this chronic condition. (Locked) More »

Measure blood pressure in both arms

It's a good idea to have your blood pressure measured in both arms every so often. A difference between the two readings of more than 10 points may indicate increased cardiovascular risk. (Locked) More »

Step up to better blood pressure

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is vital for good health. To stay in the healthy zone, or get back there, lock in the basics like exercising more and cutting back on sodium. If medication is needed, a combination may be best. More »