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Diseases & Conditions

High Blood Pressure and Heart Attack

Blood pressure readings

Blood pressure is recorded as two measurements:

Systolic Blood Pressure The top/first number in a blood pressure reading. The systolic pressure in the arteries is when the heart is beating and the arteries are filled with blood.
Diastolic Blood Pressure The bottom/second number in a blood pressure reading. The diastolic pressure in the arteries is when the heart is resting between beats and the arteries are emptied of blood.
  Measurement Treatment
Normal Blood Pressure Less than 120/80 mmHg Encourage healthy lifestyle.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or higher and/or diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg or higher Modify lifestyle and possible medication. Your doctor will talk to you about treatment goals.

mmHg = millimeters of mercury: the unit of measure for blood pressure

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 amount of pressure the blood creates against the artery walls as the heart beats. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means there is more than a normal amount of pressure in the arteries.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack means the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle is cut off. This causes permanent damage to that part of the heart. The coronary arteries (a network of blood vessels around the heart) are responsible for delivering blood rich in oxygen to the heart. If one of the coronary arteries becomes partially or completely blocked (by a clot or spasm), blood can’t get through, and it can lead to a heart attack.

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

If you have high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis). Coronary artery disease is the build-up of plaque or fatty matter in the walls of the coronary arteries. Over time, the build-up causes the arteries to become narrow. As the artery narrows, less blood can flow through to the heart, and the flow may become completely blocked. The hardened surface of the artery can also cause small blood clots to form.

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

What are the symptoms of hypertension?

Most people with high blood pressure do not have symptoms. The condition is often called “the silent killer” because it can damage your heart, kidneys, and brain without you knowing anything is wrong.

When should I check my blood pressure?

Have your blood pressure checked by a healthcare provider at least once a year. Even children should have their blood pressure checked as part of their routine physical exams. Blood pressure machines in drug stores and other places are not as accurate as medical equipment in a doctor’s office.

You may need to check your blood pressure more often. Ask your healthcare provider what the best schedule is for you.

How can I manage my high blood pressure?

Your healthcare provider will let you know how you can help control your blood pressure. Some common steps to take include:

  • Losing weight, if needed, and staying at your ideal body weight
  • Regular exercise
  • A balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in potassium, and is low in sodium, fat, and cholesterol. Ask your healthcare provider about the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and ways to cut sodium from your diet. You may also find it helpful to meet with a dietitian.
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. On average, men should have no more than two drinks per day and women should have no more than one drink per day. Check with your healthcare provider for the best guidelines for you.
  • Using healthy strategies to manage stress and anger
  • Not smoking or using any kind of tobacco
  • Medications, if needed. Please make sure you understand exactly which medications you can and cannot take and how to take your medications. Do not stop taking any medication without first asking your doctor.
  • Other lifestyle changes your doctor recommends to improve your heart health, such as raising HDL cholesterol levels, lowering LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and managing other health conditions, such as diabetes.

High blood pressure is just one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Talk to your healthcare provider about your individual risks and how to reduce 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: 1/9/2015...#4236