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Heart Health Part 1: Blood Pressure

heart health and blood pressure

Heart Health Part 1: Blood Pressure

Table of Contents

What is Blood Pressure?

Why does Blood Pressure Matter?

What’s “Normal” Blood Pressure?

What are the Risks of High Blood Pressure?

Risks: Arteries

Risks: Heart

Risks: Brain

Risks: Kidneys

Risks: Eyes

Risks: Sexual Performance

What Affects My Blood Pressure?

What can I do to Lower My Blood Pressure?

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of how much pressure blood puts on your artery walls as the heart pumps it through your arteries.

Why does Blood Pressure Matter?

Normal blood pressure generally means that your blood can deliver nutrients and oxygen throughout your body. While your blood pressure may increase or decrease throughout the day, prolonged elevated blood pressure (hypertension) can negatively affect your health.

What’s “Normal” Blood Pressure?1

The American Heart Association recommends blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg. An occasional reading of elevated blood pressure (120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic) is not necessarily a cause for worry, but always consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension) is considered 130-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic. Stage 2 hypertension is 140 or higher systolic or 90 or higher diastolic. Hypertensive crisis is higher than 180 systolic and/or higher than 120 diastolic. Consult your doctor immediately if your blood pressure reading falls into this category.

Systolic Pressure: the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.

Diastolic Pressure: the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

What are the Risks of High Blood Pressure?2

High blood pressure (hypertension) can affect your arteries, heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, and sexual performance.

How can High Blood Pressure Affect My Arteries?

  • Damaged/narrowed arteries which can eventually limit blood flow through your body
    • Hypertension can damage the arteries’ inner lining cells. Fats enter your bloodstream and can collect in the damaged arteries. Over time, your artery walls can become less elastic, which limits the blood flow throughout your body and the amount of nutrients and oxygen your body receives.
  • Aneurysms

    • The constant pressure of blood moving through a weakened artery can cause an enlarged section of the wall, forming a bulge (aneurysm). If an aneurysm ruptures, you can have life-threatening internal bleeding. Aneurysms can form in any artery but are most common in the aorta (the largest artery).

How can High Blood Pressure Affect My Heart?

  • Coronary artery disease
    • Arteries narrowed and damaged from high blood pressure cannot supply blood to the heart as efficiently, which can cause chest pain (angina), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or even a heart attack.
  • Enlarged left heart
    • The left ventricle thickens from working harder to pump blood to the rest of your body, which increases risk of heart attack, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death.
  • Heart failure
    • The heart muscle can weaken over time, work less efficiently, and eventually begin to fail.

How can High Blood Pressure Affect My Brain?

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
    • Hardened arteries or blood clots can cause a TIA (a mini-stroke), which is a temporary disruption of blood to the brain.
  • Stroke

    • Damaged blood vessels can narrow, rupture, or leak. Blood clots can also form in the arteries leading to the brain – the blocked blood flow can potentially cause a stroke, where the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients and brain cells die.
  • Dementia
    • Limited blood flow to the brain can lead to vascular dementia.

How can High Blood Pressure Affect My Kidneys?

  • Kidney scarring

    •  Tiny blood vessels within the kidney become scarred and unable to effectively filter fluid and waste from your blood. The scarring (glomerulosclerosis) can lead to kidney failure.
  • Kidney failure
    • Kidneys cannot effectively filter waste from your blood due to damaged blood vessels. Dangerous levels of fluid and waste can accumulate, ultimately leading to needing dialysis or a kidney transplant. One of the most common causes of kidney failure is high blood pressure.

How can High Blood Pressure Affect My Eyes?

  • Tiny, delicate blood vessels supply blood to your eyes. High blood pressure can damage these:
    • Retina damage
      • Bleeding in the eye, blurred vision, and complete loss of vision from damage to the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye

    • Fluid buildup under the retina
      • Distorted vision or sometimes scarring that impairs vision
    • Nerve damage
      • Bleeding within your eye or vision loss from damaged optic nerves

How can High Blood Pressure Affect My Sexual Performance?

  • Erectile dysfunction
    • Limited blood flow to the penis affects ability to get erections
  • Decreased libido
    • Reduced blood flow to the vagina can lead to decrease in sexual desire or arousal, vaginal dryness, or difficulty orgasming

What Affects My Blood Pressure?1

While we cannot change or control all factors related to high blood pressure, making some simple lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure and can help reduce your risk for related complications.

Factors that we can control:

  • Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Diabetes
  • Being obese and overweight
  • High cholesterol
  • Diet high in sodium and low in potassium with drinking too much alcohol
  • Physical inactivity

Factors that we should be aware of but can’t really control:

  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Aging
  • Gender
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

What Can I Do to Help Lower My Blood Pressure?

  • Smoking habits. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Weight. Reach and maintain a healthy weight – work with your doctor or nutritionist to determine what weight range is healthy for you.
  • Diet. Maintain a balanced diet – low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Goal of less than 1,500 mg/day of sodium. Consult your doctor or nutritionist for help, especially if you have dietary restrictions or allergies.
  • Potassium. Eat potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, avocados, sweet potatoes, white beans, beets, etc.
  • Drinking habits. Limit alcohol consumption: no more than 1 drink/day for women; no more than 2 drinks/day for men.
  • Exercise. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both spread throughout the week. Including muscle strengthening activity at least 2 days/week can increase health benefits.
  • Knowledge. Know what your blood pressure should be and work to maintain it.
  • Medications. Follow your health care provider’s instructions for any prescribed medications.
Consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your blood pressure. Your healthcare provider should be able to help you determine what your blood pressure targets should be and how to reach them. 

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This blog post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any conditions or illnesses or act as a substitute for professional medical advice.

  1. American Heart Association: What is High Blood Pressure?
  2. Mayo Clinic. High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body

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