Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis (ath-er-o-skleh-RO-sis), is when the inner walls of arteries become narrower due to a buildup of plaque. This limits the flow of blood to the heart and brain. Sometimes, this plaque can break open. When this happens, a blood clot forms and blocks the artery. This can cause heart attacks and ischemic strokes.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension (hi-per-TEN-shun), means the pressure in your arteries is consistently above the normal range. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. It’s written as two numbers, such as 122/78 mm Hg. The top, systolic number is the pressure when the heart beats. The bottom, diastolic number is the pressure when the heart rests between beats. High blood pressure is a pressure of 140 systolic or higher and/or 90 diastolic or higher that stays high over time.
The great danger is that you usually can't tell you have high blood pressure! There are no signs, so you must see a doctor every year. Also, no one knows exactly what causes it. Yet, high blood pressure can lead to hardened arteries, stroke or heart attack.
Heart attacks occur when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.
Heart failure means that your heart isn't pumping blood as well as it should. It keeps working, but the body doesn’t get all the blood and oxygen it needs. See a doctor if you notice any of these:
- Swelling in feet, ankles and legs.
- Fluid builds up in lungs, called "pulmonary congestion."
Stroke and tia ("mini-stroke") happen when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets clogged or bursts. Then that part of the brain can’t work and neither can the part of the body it controls. Major causes of stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm)