What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is not the same thing as heart disease, but it can make heart disease worse. By damaging its arteries and making the heart work too hard, hypertension can help trigger (or be a risk factor for) heart attacks.
Both heart disease and hypertension can kill you. Heart disease can cause you to spend the rest of your life with chest pain or shortness of breath. But not only does hypertension make heart disease more likely, it can cause you to “stroke out” so that – even if you survive – you spend the rest of your life partially paralyzed, unable to hear, or unable to speak.
There are some similarities in the causes of hypertension and coronary artery heart disease. For a long time, we have understood that coronary artery heart disease is due to mistakes in lifestyle, especially nutrition (particularly an overindulgence of dietary fat). But there are also critical differences in their causes. An important cause of coronary artery heart disease is dietary fat and cholesterol. The most important contributor to hypertension, however, is a low ratio of potassium (K) to sodium (Na) – the K Factor – in the food people eat.
Also, high blood pressure is not the same thing as, nor is it due to, “hardening of the arteries” – a term that refers to the cumulative effects of age and poor nutrition, in addition to hypertension, upon the arteries. And lastly, hypertension is not a type of nervous tension.
Whether or not your doctor decides you have hypertension depends on how high your blood pressure is. That’s all there is to it. Blood pressure is the pressure the blood exerts against the walls of all your arteries (the large blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body’s tissues). Your heart creates this blood pressure by pumping blood into the arteries. How can you tell if your blood pressure is too high? You can’t – unless it’s measured. In fact, about a third of the people with high blood pressure don’t realize they have it.
How It Is Measured
Your doctor measures your blood pressure by inflating a cuff around your arm with enough pressure to squeeze the artery inside your arm shut. By releasing the pressure of the cuff and listening to the sounds of the pulsating blood as the artery reopens, your doctor can determine your blood pressure.