High blood pressure is also called hypertension. This is a medical term which, by definition, means an individual has a numerical measurement of pressure that is greater than 140/90. These numbers represent a systolic pressure greater than 140 mm of mercury and a diastolic pressure greater than 90 mm of mercury. Chronic hypertension has often been called the silent killer because it has little to no signs and symptoms and will not be picked up unless an individual is screened with a blood-pressure measurement. It can cause blood vessel changes in the back of the eye which lead to cataracts and blindness. In it can also cause an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle which leads to heart failure and congestive heart failure or it can lead to kidney failure and brain damage. (1)
There is no substitute for getting your blood pressure measured in the physician’s office and without going through this process you are only inviting hypertension into your life. At this time physicians have not been able to find a reason for 95% of the diagnose cases of hypertension. However they do know that with medication, weight reduction, salt restriction anaerobic exercise most people are able to reduce their blood pressure and control it.
Your blood pressure will actually change during the day and is affected by exercise and stress. Blood pressure is lowest as you sleep and will rise as you are out and about. Physicians like to see your blood pressure lower than 120/80 but do not diagnose hypertension until the blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. The middle range between those two numbers is considered pre-hypertensive and physicians will make recommendations to change your lifestyle choices in order to impact your blood pressure.
Blood pressure will also have a significant impact on your heart muscle. High blood pressure means that the arteries against which the heart muscle is pumping have become more stiff or tense. This increases the workload against the heart muscle because it is now pumping against a higher pressure system.
This increased workload results in thicker muscle walls in the heart. While increasing muscle mass in your extremities may be a positive change, increasing the muscle mass of the heart is not. When the muscle wall increases it decreases the amount of space within the chamber’s which then decreases the amount of blood which is able to be pumped out around the body. This decreases the amount of oxygenation available at the cellular level and results in symptoms of congestive heart failure. It also reduces the amount of oxygen available to the heart muscle which causes further damage.
There are actually four different types of changes that can happen to the heart muscle during heart failure. Physicians have found that when these changes are precipitated by hypertension and the hypertension is subsequently controlled through medication, salt reduction, weight loss and exercise the symptoms of congestive heart failure will decrease and the efficiency of the heart muscle will increase.
One of the factors in developing a treatment protocol for congestive heart failure is to determine the underlying cause if possible. This is sometimes related to infections, hypertension or primary kidney failure. In these examples it is important to treat the underlying condition as well as alleviate the symptoms of congestive heart failure in order to achieve good long-term results.
If you have symptoms of congestive heart failure or a family history of heart disease and hypertension, it is important to have your blood pressure monitored every year and a checkup with your physician every two years.
(1) National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What is High Blood Pressure
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What is Heart Failure
University of New Mexico School of medicine: Cardiovascular Disease