How Does Blood Pressure Relate to CVD?
Blood pressure is the result of circulating blood exerting pressure against the walls of your arteries. This pressure is very important because it allows the blood to flow through the arteries and deliver nutrients to all the organs of your body. Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the more narrow your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers (for example, 124/85 mm Hg, as shown in the graphic). The top number is the systolic and the bottom the diastolic. These values are measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
The systolic value represents your heart “at work,” the pressure exerted when your heart beats and fills your arteries with blood.
The diastolic value represents your heart “at rest,” between beats. During this phase, your heart fills with blood in advance of the next beat.
Healthy Blood Pressure
Normal blood pressure is a reading of lower than 120/80. When your blood pressure numbers are consistently greater than 140/90, you’re considered to have high blood pressure, or hypertension (but if you have diabetes or kidney disease, 130/80 is considered a high reading).
In addition to your normal, or “ideal,” blood pressure values, there are three categories of blood pressure — hypertension, pre-hypertension, and hypotension — each of which has a different impact on your health. These are represented in the graph and defined as follows:
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is present when there are consistent measures that exceed 140/90 (or readings higher than 130/80 for people with diabetes or kidney disease). This indicates that to reduce your risk of developing a serious condition, like heart disease, you should make significant lifestyle changes, including even medication, to lower your blood pressure (visit our ACT section for blood pressure control strategies).
Pre-hypertension indicates you have slightly surpassed the ideal target values and are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which may require medical therapy. If your systolic blood pressure is between 120 and 139 and/or your diastolic is between 80 and 89, you should take the necessary steps to decrease your blood pressure.
Hypotension, otherwise known as low blood pressure, is a reading of less than 90/60. It can be just as serious and dangerous as high blood pressure and should not be ignored. Hypotension indicates that the force of your blood flow is inadequate, and this could mean certain of your vital organs are not receiving enough blood. What is considered low blood pressure may vary from person to person.
How High Blood Pressure Affects Your Cardiovascular Health
High blood pressure, or hypertension, makes your heart work a lot harder and, while doing so, causes excess force on your artery walls. Any added force can damage arteries and increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).
High blood pressure contributes to CVD through the scarring of artery walls where plaque can build up and narrow the vessels. This causes a type of CVD known as coronary artery disease. A narrowing artery can become completely blocked, leading to a heart attack. Also, plaques can break away from the artery wall and cause a blockage elsewhere.