High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is elevated pressure of the blood in the arteries. Hypertension results from two major factors, which can be present independently or together:
- The heart pumps blood with excessive force.
- The body's smaller blood vessels (known as the arterioles) narrow, so that blood flow exerts more pressure against the vessels' walls.
Although the body can tolerate increased blood pressure for months and even years, eventually the heart may enlarge (a condition called hypertrophy), which is a major factor in heart failure.
|Click the icon to see an image of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.|
Such pressure can also injure blood vessels in the heart, kidneys, the brain, and the eyes.
Two numbers are used to describe blood pressure: the systolic pressure (the higher and first number) and the diastolic pressure (the lower and second number). Health dangers from blood pressure may vary among different age groups and depending on whether systolic or diastolic pressure (or both) is elevated. A third measurement, pulse pressure, may also be important as an indicator of severity.
Review Date: 04/06/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.