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

Learn how to reduce salt with these 5 tips

If you're like most people, chances are you eat far more than the recommended amount of sodium, one of the main components of salt. Current federal guidelines advise getting no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily, but the average American consumes about 3,500 mg a day. Strong evidence from more than 100 clinical trials shows that a lower sodium diet can decrease blood pressure. High blood pressure, which affects one in three American adults, is a key culprit in heart disease. More »

Blood pressure: Can it be too low?

Blood pressure readings of 140/80 mm Hg and higher can increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke. But a blood pressure that drops to 120/70 mm Hg or lower because of medications may also be dangerous. This phenomenon is known as the “J curve,” where the bottom of the J represents the ideal range for blood pressure, and values higher or lower are undesirable. When systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) gets too low, people may develop symptoms such as lightheadedness, fainting, and weakness. But low diastolic pressure (the second number in a reading) by itself does not cause any symptoms.  More »

Monitoring your heart rhythm with a smartphone: A good call?

Smartphone apps that detect possible atrial fibrillation (afib) may one day help improve screening for this common heart rhythm disorder. One app currently under development relies on the phone’s camera and flash to measure color changes in a person’s finger to detect a pulse and any irregularities. Another, which is placed on a user’s chest, relies on the phone’s internal sensors that track speed, movement, and orientation.  (Locked) More »

Many older adults take unneeded blood pressure drugs

About 66% of adults over age 70 still take antihypertensive medication even though they now have low pressures, says a study from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. Researchers say this exposes adults to medication side effects like dizziness and falls.  More »

What is venous insufficiency?

Venous insufficiency, which happens when veins don’t work properly, can cause swelling, pain, and a sense of heaviness in the legs. Elevating the legs when sitting or lying down can help; so can support stockings.  (Locked) More »

At-home testing for sleep apnea

Home sleep tests to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may reliably detect the disorder even if a sleep specialist is not involved. Marked by loud snoring and breathing lapses during sleep, OSA can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. More »

Salt shakedown: A boon for lowering blood pressure

Health experts say the FDA’s proposed guidelines to scale down sodium levels in processed and restaurant food is a long-awaited step in the right direction. Lowering dietary sodium lowers blood pressure, a key risk factor for heart disease. Current federal guidelines advise getting no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium (one of the main components of salt) per day, but most Americans consume about 3,500 mg a day. About 75% of the sodium people consume comes from processed foods; the biggest sources include breads and rolls, pizza, and cold cuts and cured meats. (Locked) More »

Feel the beat

Measuring resting heart rate (RHR)—the number of heartbeats per minute while at rest—provides a real-time snapshot of heart muscle function. When considered in the context of other markers, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, RHR can be used to identify potential health problems before they manifest as well as gauge a person’s current heart health.  (Locked) More »