Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. The force is generated with each heartbeat as blood is pumped from the heart into the blood vessels. Each time the heart beats (contracts and relaxes), pressure is created inside the arteries. The pressure is greatest when blood is pumped out of the heart into the arteries (systole). When the heart relaxes between beats (blood is not moving out of the heart), the pressure falls in the arteries (diastole).
When measuring blood pressure, two numbers are recorded.
The top number, or systolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling with blood. Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are recorded as "mm Hg" (millimeters of mercury). Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic or <120/80. If either is consistently higher, then this is considered high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and can vary between mild, moderate and severe.
Why manage blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease, peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.
Hypertension means the blood running through your arteries flows with too much force and puts pressure on your arteries, stretching them past their healthy limit and causing microscopic tears. Our body then kicks into injury-healing mode to repair these tears with scar tissue. But unfortunately, the scar tissue generate the creation of atherosclerotic plaque (atherosclerosis) which finally leads to blockages, blood clots, and hardened, weakened arteries.
By keeping your blood pressure in the healthy range, you are:
• Reducing your risk of overstretched or injured blood vessel walls
• Reducing your risk of blockages which also protects your heart and brain
• Protecting your entire body so that your tissue receives regular supplies of blood that is rich in the oxygen it needs.
What are the consequences of high blood pressure?
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can injure or kill you. It's sometimes called "the silent killer" because it has no symptoms. One in three adults has high blood pressure, yet, many people don't even know they have it. Uncontrolled high blood pressure kills people and wreaks havoc on many lives by causing heart disease, carotid artery disease and stroke. It can cause kidney failure and peripheral artery disease.
What can I do to reduce my blood pressure?
Good news! High blood pressure is manageable. Whether your blood pressure is high or normal the lifestyle modifications listed here provide a great vascular health living plan for all of us. These lifestyle changes may reduce your blood pressure without the use of prescription medications:
• Eating a healthy diet, which includes reducing sodium, fat and total calories
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Enjoying regular physical activity
• Managing stress
• Limiting alcohol
• Avoiding tobacco smoke
If your doctor prescribes antihypertensive medication for you, it is important that you take it and follow the other healthy lifestyle recommendations, too.