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Hypertension 101

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Everyone should understand their blood pressure, what it is and how to control it. First, what IS blood pressure?

When you fill up a balloon with water, the water inside pushes out on the skin of the balloon. Similar to water in a water balloon, blood puts pressure on the blood vessels in your body.

The blood pressure cuff you are familiar with uses the sounds caused by the force of blood squeezed from the heart into the blood vessels to measure the blood pressure.

When your heart squeezes and ejects blood into your blood vessels, the force of it creates the “systolic” blood pressure, or the top number of your blood pressure. When you can no longer hear the sound of the force of blood against your blood vessels, this is the “diastolic” blood pressure, or the bottom number, which is the pressure of blood in your body when the heart relaxes in between squeezes.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is said to be present when the heart has to push harder than usual to pump blood into the body. Your blood pressure will be higher after you’ve exercised - this is a normal condition where your body needs more blood flow to bring oxygen and remove waste faster, because you are exercising. This is normal, and also why you should always rest at least five to ten minutes before you check your blood pressure.

Hypertension, or abnormally elevated resting blood pressure, is a problem because the persistently higher force of blood can damage the inner lining of the arteries. The areas of damage are places that allow cholesterol buildup to take place. Your body will try to repair the damage and get rid of the cholesterol build-up, which produces inflammation in the blood vessels. Over time, this causes permanent damage to the arteries, and can form plaques or blockages that reduce blood flow to different organs throughout the body. Another word for the plaques or blockages is “atherosclerosis”.

For example, atherosclerosis in arteries of the heart from hypertension can cause heart attacks. Atherosclerosis in arteries to the brain can cause strokes, and atherosclerosis in arteries of the legs or arms can cause peripheral arterial disease. When we see atherosclerosis in one part of the body, it is often present in other parts of the body, too.

Preventing or treating hypertension can prevent progression of atherosclerosis, which is why we call hypertension a “risk factor” for atherosclerosis. When we treat hypertension, we can prevent heart attacks, strokes, and disease in other organs throughout the body.

Some things we can do to control blood pressure is to eat a healthy diet with limited sodium, exercise, avoid alcohol, stop smoking, and get good rest. Some or all of these may be challenging for you, but there are always ways around obstacles. I would like to help you find ways around those obstacles to better health.

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