High blood pressure or hypertension occurs when blood flows with too much force through the arteries, stretching them beyond a healthy limit and causing microscopic tears. Though the body naturally repairs these tears with scar tissue, scar tissue also traps plaque and white blood cells, which can turn into blockages, blood clots, and hardened, weakened arteries. These effects prevent blood flow and cause heart tissue to die, causing other severe conditions such as stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and heart failure.
Blood pressure measures the force pushing against your arterial walls. A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers, systolic and diastolic.
- Systolic blood pressure is usually the higher number that shows the pressure on the arteries when the heart is beating or contracting. This usually increases as you get older but is given more attention. It can be a significant risk factor for heart disease for those 50 years and over.
- Diastolic blood pressure is usually the lower number that measures the pressure on the arteries between heartbeats.
A normal blood pressure level is less than 120 mm Hg systolic AND less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, so less than 120/80 mm Hg, for ages 20 and over.