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High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

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. The size and elasticity of the artery walls also affect blood pressure. 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. When the heart relaxes between beats (blood is not moving out of the heart), the pressure falls in the arteries.

What is Normal Blood Pressure?

When you have your blood pressure taken, the results are given to you as a ratio such as 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The systolic pressure (the top number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxing i.e., in between beats.

According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure has a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure less than 80.

What is High Blood Pressure?

For those with high blood pressure, the heart begins pumping an increasing amount of blood, creating a force that pushes on the arterial walls that ultimately damages them. As a result, the damaged walls can lead to health problems such as heart damage or failure, vascular scarring, blood clots, plaque build-up and tissue, and organ damage.

While most of these conditions often develop gradually, it can cause permanent damage to your heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys or lead to kidney failure, stroke or even a heart attack.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Most people with high blood pressure will not experience any signs or symptoms. As a result, many people with high blood pressure are unaware they have it until it has progressed and harmed other parts of the body. Currently, there are 76.4 million American adults who have been diagnosed with hypertension, but only 69 percent of them receive treatment.

Typically, only those with severe hypertension will show symptoms, which include dull headaches, dizzy spells or nosebleeds.

Diagnosing Hypertension

A blood pressure test is a simple, routine exam in which a doctor, nurse or other health professional wraps a cuff around your arm, inflates it and then reads the gauge while listening to your pulse with a stethoscope. What the health professional is measuring is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.

Treating Hypertension

  • Lifestyle Changes: In many cases, high blood pressure can be managed with changes to your diet and exercise routine. Medication: Your cardiologist may prescribe medication for abnormal blood pressure.
  • Interventional Cardiology: In some cases, minimally-invasive interventional procedures, such as angioplasty, may be required to improve blood flow.