October 01, 2016

High blood pressure

Managing this silent killer

High blood pressure

You likely know that having high blood pressure isn't a good thing. And you may also know that it gets more common as you age. High blood pressure can be easy to dismiss precisely because it's so common and almost expected by some people.

In fact, 1 in 3 Americans has hypertension and another third have higher than normal blood pressure. But high blood pressure isn't inevitable. Nor is it unmanageable if you have it. Understanding high blood pressure — what it means, what puts you at risk of the condition, and the range of treatment options available — is critical to protecting your long-term health.

Understanding blood pressure

With each beat of your heart, nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood surges from your heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle) into an intricate network of blood vessels. These blood vessels deliver nutrients and fresh oxygen to your body's tissues and organs. They also pick up carbon dioxide and other waste products produced by your cells. The waste products are removed from your blood by the kidneys. The oxygen-depleted blood returns to your heart and is routed to your lungs, where it releases the carbon dioxide and picks up a new supply of oxygen. The freshly oxygenated and filtered blood is sent back to your heart, ready to resume the journey through your cardiovascular system.

A certain amount of pressure is required to maintain this circulation and keep all 11 pints of blood moving through your body. Your blood pressure is the amount of force exerted on your artery walls to keep your blood flowing — not unlike the...