We’ve all been there: the nurse places a blood pressure cuff around your arm, squeezes that little bulb that causes the cuff to inflate, and voila, you get a reading. A normal blood pressure reading is below 120/80 mmHg; it is considered high when it is above 130/81. Doctors make a fuss about this number because high blood pressure, or hypertension, can set the stage for various forms of heart disease, including heart failure.
Arterial pressure (BP) refers to the pressure of circulating blood against the walls of your blood vessels, such as your veins and arteries. Blood pressure is broken down into two readings: the pressure when the ventricles pump blood out of the heart (systolic pressure) and the pressure between heartbeats when the heart fills with blood (diastolic pressure). High blood pressure is extremely common. In fact, about half of American adults struggle with this condition and only about one in four have it under control. As if that weren’t enough, more than 670,000 deaths in the United States in 2020 had hypertension as a « primary or contributing cause, » according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news: there are many ways to bring high blood pressure back to normal. Here’s what you need to know about the link between high BP and heart failure and what you can do to keep your ticker in top shape.
What causes arterial hypertension?
For many people, there is no identifiable cause of high blood pressure, known as primary hypertension, according to the Mayo Clinic. But there are some known factors that increase the risk of developing it.
Aging is a big problem: « It’s very common as we age to [blood] the vessels become thicker,” Keith C. Ferdinand, MD, FACC, holder of the Gerald S. Berenson Endowed Chair in Preventive Cardiology and professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, tells SELF. When this happens, the vessels become stiffer and don’t expand as they should when blood passes through them, he explains.
There are so many other factors that can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure over time, including your diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, stress, or anxiety and various chronic illnesses including pregnancy, diabetes and sleep. apnea, among others. When high blood pressure is caused by an underlying condition or medication, it is called secondary hypertension.
Hypertension also tends to run in families and has a disproportionate impact on black people, who also face a higher risk of heart failure due to various systemic barriers.
What is the link between high blood pressure and heart failure?
Heart failure develops when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body with what it needs. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries and muscles, which affects the pumping powers of the heart and can lead to failure.
With chronic high blood pressure, the cells inside the arteries, which carry vital oxygenated blood away from the heart, are damaged. This makes it difficult for the right amount of blood to flow, which can lead to chest pain, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), heart attack and heart failure, according to the CDC.