What is High Blood Pressure?
According to the American Heart Association, hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) is the number one modifiable risk factor for stroke. It can also lead to a plethora of health problems such as heart attack, dementia, stroke, erectile dysfunction, kidney failure and even blindness. High blood pressure is especially dangerous because most of the time it has no symptoms, earning it the nickname of “The Silent Killer”.
A multitude of treatment options are available for hypertension, ranging from lifestyle changes and alternative medicines, to multiple prescription medications. It is important to remember that simply lowering high blood pressure is not the ultimate goal. The main motivation for lowering blood pressure is to reduce your chances of experiencing life threatening events such as a heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which blood pushes against artery walls. Systolic blood pressure refers specifically to the pressure when the heart beats and pushes blood through the heart and into the arteries. The pressure between heartbeats, when the heart relaxes and is at rest, is called the diastolic pressure. According to The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC7)“normal” blood pressure for an adult is 120 systolic and 80 diastolic or 120/80 mmHg. You are considered “hypertensive” if your systolic reading is over 139 and/or your diastolic number is over 89.
When the blood vessels (arteries) responsible for carrying the blood away from the heart either no longer expand as needed to allow proper blood flow or when blood volume is too great, the result is excessive pressure on the artery walls. This condition is known as high blood pressure or hypertension.
In hypertensive patients, the heart often has to work extra hard to produce adequate blood flow and this increase in stress on the heart can cause it to enlarge over time. The added pressure on the artery walls also causes damage to the endothelium (the lining in the arteries) making it easier for plaque and cholesterol to build up and narrow the artery in most cases. These seemingly insignificant physical changes can actually be a formula for disaster; paving the way to stroke, kidney failure, heart attack, erectile dysfunction, dementia, blindness and loss of limbs.
For more information visit www.heart.org and http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/jnc7full.pdf.