There are times it is normal for the heart to beat harder, such as if you are out hiking and encounter a bear. Your blood pressure will jump so larger levels of oxygenated, nutrient rich blood is sent through your system and you are able to react. All part of the flight or fight response.
When you are diagnosed for high blood pressure your blood pressure is not just high for limited periods of time. It is consistently elevated. This means the heart is constantly working harder than it should.
Here are 7 reasons your heart may be dealing with this increased workload:
1. Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) - This may be caused by cholesterol deposits along arterial walls resulting in plaque buildup. Fibrosis or endothelial dysfunction may also result in narrower arteries. When arteries narrow the heart has to pump harder (exert more force) to move blood throughout the system.
2. Overweight and obesity - Fat is a tissue that requires a constant blood supply, just like any other tissue or organ in the body. Fat is comprised of many capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that have to be consistently filled with blood to nourish the fat. It's been estimated that 1 pound of extra fat at ~1 mile of capillaries. No, imagine if you are 30, 40, or 50 pounds overweight how many extra miles the heart has to send blood. For many individuals, losing 10 to 20 pounds is an effective way to bring blood pressure back to normal levels.
3. Type A Personality - Psychological factors play a role in blood pressure. Individuals considered to have a type A personality tend to have higher heart rates and increased cardiac output, which leads to higher blood pressure. Type A individuals are typically classified as aggressive, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, aggressive, impatient, preoccupied, tightly-wound, and "workaholics" who multitask.
4. Cigarette smoking - Cigarettes increase heart rate by elevating the tension in the walls of the heart muscle. This speeds up the rate the heart muscle contracts. Another negative, is the carbon monoxide in cigarettes pushes oxygen, so the blood the heart works so hard to deliver contains less of the needed oxygen. So, the heart has to struggle to pump even more blood to deliver the same level of oxygen to tissues. Cigarette smoking also leads to increased risk for atherosclerosis (see #1 above), peripheral artery disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
5. Eating too much sodium - For sodium sensitive individuals, a high sodium diet leads to water retention. This can lead to a larger blood volume which equals increased pressure against artery walls (i.e. high blood pressure). It can also cause the heart to become enlarged (cardiomegaly), kidney disease, and strokes.
6. Emotional stress - Like I mentioned initially, the flight or fight response is a normal response to stress and the body should respond with an increase in blood pressure. However, living with constant anxiety, fear, anger, and other forms of stress causes a continuous physiological response. The adrenaline release leads to an increased heart rate, elevated blood sugar, increased cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. If your life is filled with stress, it's important you take steps to manage the stress as best you can.