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What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?

The heart pumps blood through stretchy tubes called arteries to all the tissues of the body. The force of the blood moving through those tubes is called blood pressure. If blood pressure is too high, and the tubes stretch out too far, serious symptoms can sometimes develop. The heart has to work harder to pump blood into stretched vessels, and this can lead to damage to the heart muscle. Blood vessels can be weakened by overstretching, and can burst open. This causes a stroke or aneurysm. Sometimes arteries under high blood pressure develop tiny tears along their surface. These rough edges can attract platelets, forming a clot. Clots can block arteries and cause tissue damage to the areas beyond the clot, if they don’t get enough oxygen. If the clot blocks an artery entirely it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, called systolic and diastolic, which are written one over the other. The top number, systolic, measures the pressure inside the arteries when the heart is contracting. The bottom number, diastolic, measures pressure when the heart is relaxed and refilling. A healthy blood pressure is considered to be less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure over 140/90 mmHg usually requires treatment.

High blood pressure can sometimes be managed with lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet low in sodium, exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking, and reducing stress. If that is not enough, there are medications such as beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors that can help.