High Blood Pressure
The force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is too high.
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is too high.
You can actually have high blood pressure for years before any symptoms present themselves. Rather, consistently having high blood pressure is how people suddenly find themselves in the ER one day. High blood pressure is often called the silent killer for a reason.
How blood pressure and the circulatory system are related
To prevent High Blood Pressure from creeping up on you, it’s vital to understand how blood pressure and circulation is related.
The primary function of the cardiovascular system is to circulate blood full of oxygen and nutrients to the many different organs in the body. It all starts with a heartbeat. A heartbeat creates a force that moves blood through all sorts of different blood vessels like arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arteries are large blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the organs. Veins, on the other hand, are blood vessels that are responsible for carrying deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Capillaries are the finer, small blood vessels that branch out from arteries to the veins. Capillaries are usually where nutrients are exchanged, and also increase the total vascular resistance of a system.
This pressure, or blood pressure, mainly refers to the force of blood on the walls of arteries. It is the result of two forces: The first force (systolic pressure) as the work the heart has to do in order to move blood around the circulatory system. This is usually the number that goes on top. The second force (diastolic pressure) is measured as the force on the heart in between heartbeats. This is usually the number that goes on the bottom.
The Dangers of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure usually goes unnoticed for a long time. This increased workload causes undue friction and force on the walls of the blood vessels. Over time, the prolonged exposure to high blood pressure can damage the delicate bed of tissues inside the arteries. In turn, Bad (LDL) cholesterol forms plaque along the tiny tears in the artery walls caused by the excessive force and friction, signifying the start of atherosclerosis.
The more the plaque builds and damage increases, the narrower the insides of your arteries become— which basically leads to high blood pressure and a wealth of other problems wherever blood vessels are involved. For example:
- Peripheral Artery Disease: Pain or fatigue caused directly by atherosclerosis, and is characterized by smaller arteries in the veins, legs, and arms
- Coronary Artery Disease: When plaque builds up and constricts the blood vessels nearest to the heart, causing them to narrow and ultimately restricting blood flow to the heart.
- Cardiac Arrest: damaged or blocked arteries can stop blood flow to tissues in the heart muscle, causing it to seize.
- Stroke: High blood pressure can cause plaque to form in blood vessels leading to or in the brain. This is dangerous because plaque can chip off and end up in the brain, causing bleeding and stroke.
- Angina: Over time, high blood pressure can lead to Angina, or chest pain, which is a common symptom.
- Vision loss: High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the eyes.
- Heart Failure: The increased workload from high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge while struggling to supply blood to the whole body
- Kidney Failure: High blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidneys and prevent waste from being filtered from blood.
High blood pressure is a silent killer
Even if you feel absolutely okay; high blood pressure could be quietly causing damage that can threaten your life. The best way to detect high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured. However, in many cases you can prevent it all together by living a healthy lifestyle.
How a blood pressure test works
- A blood pressure reading is taken with a sphygmomanometer, or arm cuff.
- The cuff is placed around the upper arm before being manually or electronically inflated.
- Once inflated, the cuff compresses the brachial artery, momentarily stopping blood flow.
- Next, air in the cuff is slowly released
Your blood pressure reading is recorded as two numbers
- Systolic blood pressure (the top number): indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls during heartbeats.
- Diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number): indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.
According to the American Heart Association, if your blood pressure is normal (120 mm Hg) then you should be screened for high blood pressure once every two years.
Common Misconceptions about High Blood Pressure
If your blood pressure reading is higher than normal, it does not mean you have HBP. A single high reading does not mean that you have high blood pressure. However, if your readings continue to stay high, the odds suggest you most likely have high blood pressure and should commence treatment.
A rising heart rate does not cause your blood pressure to increase at the same rate:
Even though your heart is beating more times a minute, healthy blood vessels dilate (get larger) to allow more blood to flow through more easily. When you exercise, your heart speeds up so more blood can reach your muscles. It may be possible for your heart rate to double safely, while your blood pressure may respond by only increasing a modest amount.