Reducing high blood pressure can lower your risk for stroke and heart attack. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 3 US adults—67 million people—have high blood pressure. High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
High blood pressure is known as the silent killer. You can have it and not even know it. That’s why it is so important to have your blood pressure checked. If you know family or friends who haven’t had their blood pressure checked recently, make it a point to ask them to do it this May, National High Blood Pressure Education Month.
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as HBP or hypertension, is a widely misunderstood medical condition. Some people think that those with hypertension are tense, nervous or hyperactive, but hypertension has nothing to do with personality traits. The truth is, you can be a calm, relaxed person and still have HBP.
Blood pressure measures the force pushing outwards on your arterial walls. The organs in your body need oxygen to survive. Oxygen is carried through the body by the blood. When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of tube-shaped arteries and veins, also known as blood vessels and capillaries. The pressure — blood pressure — is the result of two forces. The first force occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system. The second force is created as the heart rests between heartbeats. These two forces are each represented by numbers in a blood pressure reading.
Too Much Force
Healthy arteries are made of muscle and a semi-flexible tissue that stretches like elastic when the heart pumps blood through them. The more forcefully that blood pumps, the more the arteries stretch to allow blood to easily flow. Over time, if the force of the blood flow is often high, the tissue that makes up the walls of arteries gets stretched beyond its healthy limit. This creates problems in several ways:
• Vascular weaknesses – the overstretching creates weak places in the blood vessels, making them more prone to rupture. Those ruptures can cause strokes and aneurysms.
• Vascular scarring – the overstretching can also cause tiny tears in the blood vessels that leave scar tissue on the walls of arteries and veins. These act like nets, catching debris such as cholesterol, plaque or blood cells traveling in the bloodstream.
• Increased risk of blood clots – trapped blood can form clots that can narrow and block the arteries, cutting off the blood supply to different parts of the body. Heart attacks or strokes are often the result.
• Increased plaque build-up – cholesterol and plaque build-up in the arteries cause the blood flow to become limited or even cut off altogether. As this happens, pressure is increased on the rest of the system, forcing the heart to work harder to deliver blood to your body. If pieces of plaque break off and travel to other parts of the body, heart attacks or strokes are likely to occur.
• Tissue and organ damage from narrowed and blocked arteries – ultimately, the arteries on the other side of the blockage do not receive enough freshly oxygenated blood, which results in tissue damage.
• Increased workload on the circulatory system - the American Heart Association uses this analogy: in a home where several faucets are open and running, the water pressure flowing out of any one faucet is lower. But when pipes get clogged and therefore narrow, the pressure is much greater. And if all the household water is flowing through only one faucet, the pressure is higher still. The same is true of your circulatory system.
Silent But Deadly
You may not feel that anything is wrong, but high blood pressure can permanently damage your heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. High blood pressure often leads to heart attack and heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health consequences. Know your blood pressure levels and have them checked on a regular basis. It could save your life.