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Monitor Your Blood Pressure


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What is Blood Pressure? What Happens When It's High?

Blood is carried from the heart to all of your body's tissue and organs in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of those arteries. In fact, each time your heart beats (about 60-70 times a minute at rest), it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is at its greatest when the heart contracts and is pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest, in between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers, systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. Usually they are written one above or before the other, such as 120/80 mm Hg. 

Different actions make your blood pressure go up or down. For example, if you run for a bus, your blood pressure goes up. When you sleep at night, your blood pressure goes down. These changes in blood pressure are normal. However, some people have blood pressure that stays up all or most of the time, meaning their blood pushes against the walls of their arteries with higher-than-normal force. This condition is called high blood pressure. If untreated it can lead to serious medical problems such as: 

  • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) -- High blood pressure makes arteries thick and stiff. This condition speeds the build up of cholesterol and fats in the blood vessels, and in time, leading to heart attack or stroke.

  • Heart Attack -- Blood supplies your body with oxygen. When the arteries supplying oxygen to the heart muscle become clogged and blood flow is reduced, it can cause chest pain, also known as angina. If the flow of blood is completely stopped, it results in myocardial infarction -- a heart attack.

  • Enlarged Heart -- High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder than it normally would have to. Because of this hard work, the heart becomes thickened and stretched. Eventually, the heart muscle may fail, causing fluids to back up and accumulate in the lungs. 

  • Kidney Damage, and Possibly Kidney Failure -- The kidneys are the body's filter. Over time, when blood pressure is high, the vessels of the kidney become narrow. The kidneys filter less fluid, which then builds in the blood.

  • Stroke -- High blood pressure causes arteries to narrow faster than they normally would. Less blood gets through the arteries to the brain. If a clot blocks one of the arteries, a thrombotic stroke may occur, or when high pressure causes a weakened blood vessel to break in the brain, a hemorrhagic stroke.

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