Diseases & Conditions

High Blood Pressure and Heart Attack

What is high blood pressure?

The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carry the blood throughout the body. Blood pressure is the force or pressure of blood inside the arteries when the heart beats. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means that the pressure in your arteries is above the normal range.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is recorded as two measurements:

Systolic Blood Pressure

The pressure in the arteries when the heart is beating and fills the arteries with blood. Systolic blood pressure is the top or first number of the blood pressure reading.

Diastolic Blood Pressure

The pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom or second number of the blood pressure reading.

Pressure Measurement Treatment
Normal Blood Pressure
For an adult, relaxed at rest
Less than 120/80 mmHg Practice healthy lifestyle
Pre-Hypertension Systolic pressure of 120-139 mmHg or Diastolic pressure of 80-89 mmHg Modify lifestyle
close monitoring
High Blood Pressure
Stage 1
Systolic pressure of 140-159 mmHg or Diastolic pressure of 90-99 mmHg Modify lifestyle
Take medications
High Blood Pressure - Stage 2 Systolic pressure of 160 mmHg or higher or Diastolic pressure of 100 mmHg or higher Modify lifestyle
Take medications

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by loss of blood flow to the heart. A network of blood vessels, known as coronary arteries, surround the heart muscle and supply it with oxygen-rich blood. The heart needs this oxygen to function.

A heart attack occurs when a clot or spasm blocks an already narrowed coronary artery. Left without oxygen, the portion of the heart muscle served by the blocked artery is injured.

What is the link between high blood pressure and heart attack?

High blood pressure increases the risk of coronary artery disease (also called atherosclerosis).

Coronary artery disease is the buildup of plaque or fatty matter in the walls of the coronary arteries; this buildup leads to narrowing of the arteries over time. The narrowed artery limits or blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle. The hardened surface of the artery can also encourage the formation of small blood clots.

People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop coronary artery disease because high blood pressure puts added force against the artery walls. Over time, this extra pressure can damage the arteries. These injured arteries are more likely to become narrowed and hardened by fatty deposits.

Damaged arteries cannot deliver enough oxygen to other parts of the body. For this reason, high blood pressure can harm the brain and kidneys. High blood pressure also increases the risk for stroke, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. It is often called the "silent killer" because it can damage your heart, kidney, and brain, even though you feel no symptoms.

When should I get my blood pressure checked?

Have your blood pressure checked by a health care provider at least once a year. Even children should have their blood pressure checked as part of their routine physical exams. Do not rely on drug store measurements; these may not be accurate enough.

If you have high blood pressure, follow your health care provider’s recommendations on how often you should have your blood pressure checked.

What should I do to manage high blood pressure?

Follow your health care provider’s recommendations for changing your diet and lifestyle. These changes may include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating well-balanced, nutritious meals that are low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and high in fresh fruits and vegetables*
  • Limiting alcoholic beverages to no more than one ounce of pure alcohol or two drinks per day

Your diet is an important part of blood pressure control. Using the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and limiting sodium (salt) help control blood pressure. Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian for specific dietary guidelines.

More information is available from:

If you are prescribed medication to control your high blood pressure, don’t stop taking it unless your health care provider tells you otherwise. Your medication will only work as long as you take it.

In addition, make sure you understand which over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants, can interfere with your blood pressure medication.

High blood pressure is just one of the risk factors related to cardiovascular disease. Learn about your other risk factors and take the steps necessary to manage or treat them.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/5/2014...#4236