What’s the link between a heart attack and blood pressure?

High blood pressure can cause a heart attack. It makes your heart work harder and could lead to a buildup of cholesterol and plaque in your arteries — increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

High blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart and arteries. Years of untreated high blood pressure and the strain it puts on artery walls creates places for cholesterol to build up and form hardened patches of plaque.

If the plaque ruptures, bits and pieces enter the bloodstream, where they can form blood clots.

High blood pressure rarely shows symptoms. Checking your numbers regularly is critical to avoiding long-term complications such as heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, impaired vision and kidney disease.

Life-threatening conditions caused by high blood pressure include:

  • Heart attack: Over time, high blood pressure can damage the lining of your arteries. Fats in your bloodstream can collect along the damaged walls. Cholesterol and triglycerides combine to form plaque and cause atherosclerosis — hardening and narrowing of the arteries. If the plaque breaks loose and causes a blood clots in the heart, that’s a heart attack.
  • Stroke: If the buildup sends clots into the brain, the result is a stroke.
  • Heart failure: The extra workload on the heart can lead to an enlarged heart. That makes it harder for your heart to meet your body’s need for oxygen and nutrients.

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What’s the best blood pressure number for me?

While a range of blood pressure numbers are considered normal, each person’s health is unique.

“We know as cardiologists that a variety of factors can contribute to a variance in blood pressure numbers. What may be considered ‘normal’ or in a good range for one person may be high or elevated for another,” said Joseph A. Lash, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists and medical director for Norton Heart & Vascular Institute. “One thing is for certain: We want to see everyone’s blood pressure below 140/90.  Anything over this figure, regardless of the reason, needs to be evaluated by a physician.”

Never had high blood pressure? Succeeded in bringing it down? You’re not done.

Blood pressure is a health indicator that can vary based on factors including age, diet, stress and even time of day you reading is taken, so it can vary over time.  Individuals may also experience high blood pressure even when they are physically fit or meeting other healthy living standards. Blood pressure that is too low also can be a sign of an issue.

Knowing your blood pressure numbers through periodic checks is good practice for every adult and a proactive way to manage your health and reduce risk. This easy and painless reading may be the first sign that it’s time to talk your physician.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?

Knowing your blood pressure numbers can help you and your provider work together to keep you healthy.

Blood pressureSystolic (top number)
 Diastolic (bottom number)
NormalLess than 120 Less than 80Keep up the good work.
Elevated120-129 Less than 80Consider steps to lower your blood pressure.
High blood pressure


Hypertension stage 1

130-139 80-89You’ll have to make lifestyle changes and may get medication.
High blood pressure


Hypertension stage 2

140 and higher 90 or higherYou’ll have to make lifestyle changes and will likely get medication.
Hypertensive crisis

Higher than 180


Higher than 120Contact your health care provider. If you also have a severe headache, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, call 911.

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