Blood Pressure Basics

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Blood pressure is a measurement of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood throughout your body. To determine blood pressure, a health practitioner will measure the force of your blood moving through your arteries during two phases of each heart beat: first, as the blood is initially pumped into the arteries and, second, while the heart relaxes between beats. These two phases represent, respectively, the systolic and diastolic forces. Blood pressure, then, is expressed as the relationship between these two forces: systolic pressure over, or followed by, diastolic pressure.

Moderate pressure is necessary to send blood containing life-sustaining nutrients and oxygen to all the tissues of the body, as well as remove toxic products from these tissues. However, when blood pressure is too high, health problems can occur. Chronically high blood pressure, which is sometimes due to hardened arteries, can cause further damage in artery walls. A person with high blood pressure is said to have hypertension.

Quick Facts about Blood Pressure

  • Globally, nearly one billion people—half men, half women—are estimated to have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most common and preventable risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke.
  • Common symptoms are vague, and include headaches, breathlessness when lying down, and dizziness; in severe cases, sudden chest pain, nose bleeds, and terrible headaches. Often, there are no symptoms.
  • After age 55, more women develop high blood pressure than men.
  • In the past 20 years, the rate of uncontrolled hypertension has declined for men and increased for women.
  • Blood pressure is dynamic and fluctuates throughout the day in response to physical activity, foods and chemicals, and psychological stress.
  • High blood pressure is more common, and more serious, among African-American women—even when they are very young. In urban areas, African-American women are four times more likely to be hypertensive than white women. By comparison, indigenous cultures in Africa have no word for hypertension.
  • Getting your blood pressure checked and keeping track of it is so simple. If you are hypertensive, invest in a blood pressure monitoring device to measure your levels at home. You want your numbers to be 120/80 or less.

How to Avoid High Blood Pressure

Avoiding high blood pressure involves an integrative approach: establishing healthy habits such as a nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet and appropriate supplementation, weight management, exercise, and various mind-body techniques for emotional stress management. Quitting smoking and caffeine, and cutting down on alcohol, can help as well. Depending on how high your blood pressure is, possible pharmaceutical treatment may also be needed, as directed by your physician.

© 2010, 2016 Heart MD Institute. All rights reserved.

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