Glossary of High Blood Pressure Terms

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 20, 2022
6 min read

Angina: chest pain

Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: one kind of medication used to treat high blood pressure by preventing the body from making the chemical angiotensin II. This chemical causes blood vessels to narrow, which can raise blood pressure. ACE inhibitors allow the vessels to expand, which lowers blood pressure. These drugs are also used to treat congestive heart failure, to protect the kidneys in people with diabetes, and to treat people who have had a heart attack.

Atherosclerosis: the build-up of fatty deposits within the arteries, eventually may cause a blockage of blood flow or stiffening of the artery walls.

Balloon Angioplasty: a procedure in which a small balloon at the tip of the catheter (see cardiac catheterization) is inflated while in an artery to stretch a narrowed artery opening and allow for increased blood flow.

Beta-Blockers: one kind of medication used to treat high blood pressure, chest pain, and irregular heartbeat and to help protect a person from heart disease. Beta-blockers work by blocking the effects of adrenaline in various parts of the body. Beta-blockers relieve stress on the heart so that it requires less blood and oxygen. As a result, the heart doesn't have to work as hard and blood pressure is lowered.

Calcium Channel Blockers: one kind of high blood pressure drug that slows the movement of calcium into the cells of the heart and the walls of the arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the tissues). This relaxes the arteries and reduces the pressure in the blood vessels and makes it easier for the heart to pump blood.

Cardiac Catheterization: a procedure in which a catheter (a small flexible tube) is inserted into a large artery and guided to the coronary arteries in the heart to determine pressure and blood flow in the heart.

Carotid Artery: an artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain. They are located on both the right and left sides of the neck.

Carotid Endarterectomy: the surgical removal of plaque within the carotid artery.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: a test that uses X-rays to create a cross-sectional image of selected body sections of a person.

Congestive Heart Failure: the inability of the heart to adequately pump blood. This can be caused by a number of problems, including untreated high blood pressure, heart attacks, or infections.

Corticosteroids: natural hormones, or a group of drugs that are similar to the natural hormones, produced by the adrenal glands. There are two main types: glucocorticoids, which have anti-inflammatory effects, and mineralocorticoids, which are necessary for salt and water balance.

Cyclosporine: a drug that organ transplant patients take to suppress the immune system in order to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplant.

DASH Diet:The DASH diet, which stands for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, calls for a certain number of servings daily from various food groups, including more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods.

Diastolic Blood Pressure: the pressure of blood against the walls of the arteries when the heart relaxes between beats. It is the "bottom" number when referring to a specific blood pressure. For example, if your blood pressure is 120 over 80 or 120/80, the diastolic measurement is 80.

Diuretics: Diuretics act on the kidneys to remove excess salt and fluid from the blood. This increases the flow of urine and the need to urinate, which reduces the amount of water in the body. This can help lower blood pressure and can be used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

Echocardiogram: a test that uses a device to bounce sound waves off the heart to create an image of the heart. The ultrasound image details the blood flow in the heart's chambers and evaluates heart chamber size and how the heart valves are functioning.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): a diagnostic test that measures the electrical activity, rate, and rhythm of the heartbeat via electrodes attached to the arms, legs, and chest

Essential Hypertension: high blood pressure that does not have an apparent cause, but may be associated with such conditions such as obesity, smoking, and/or diet. The vast majority (95%) of people with high blood pressure have essential hypertension -- also known as primary hypertension.

Exercise Stress Test: a test in which electrocardiogram readings are taken while the patient exercises (on a treadmill or stationary bicycle) to increase heart rate to a predetermined point. It's used to diagnose heart disease or abnormal heart rhythms.

Erythropoietin: a hormone that stimulates production of red blood cells and can be used to treat anemia caused by chronic diseases.

Heart Attack: damage to the heart muscle caused by lack of blood flow to the heart muscle resulting in heart muscle death.

Hypertension: high blood pressure

Hypertensive Emergency: a severe elevation in blood pressure that can lead to organ damage, including encephalopathy (brain damage), heart attack, heart failure, hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding into the brain), eclampsia (a condition in which pregnant women have water retention, high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and seizures), kidney damage, and arterial bleeding.

Hypertensive Retinopathy: damage to the blood vessels in the retina (the area at the back of the eye) caused by high blood pressure.

Hypertensive Urgency: a form of hypertensive crisis, a spectrum of situations that includes high blood pressure and progressive or impending organ damage caused by high blood pressure.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: a condition in which the heart muscle becomes enlarged and thickened and may lead to dangerous heart rhythms.

Ischemic Heart Disease: a condition caused by a decrease in blood flow to the heart. This decrease is usually the result of narrowed coronary arteries, which impede the blood flow.

Kidney Failure (end-stage renal disease): a condition in which the kidney cannot filter and excrete waste products.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): a medical test that uses magnetic energy to create images of the body. This test is particularly useful to study soft tissues (such as organs in the body).

Magnetic Resonance Arteriography (MRA): one type of MRI test that provides detailed pictures of blood vessels and can reveal where arteries may be narrowed or where blood flow is blocked.

Potassium: an electrolyte that is vital in ensuring that cells can function properly. It is used to make energy for all muscles, including heart muscles.

Proteinuria: the presence of protein in the urine. This may indicate kidney disease or damage.

Secondary Hypertension: high blood pressure that is secondary to problems in another part of the body, such as the adrenals, kidneys, or aorta.

Sphygmomanometer: a device that is used to measure blood pressure. The sphygmomanometer consists of an arm cuff, dial, pump, and valve.

Stent: a small tube that can open blocked blood vessels during a heart catheterization. Stents are usually made of metal and are permanent. It can also be made of a material that the body absorbs over time. Some stents have medicine that helps keep the artery from getting blocked again.

Stroke: an interruption of the blood supply to the brain, resulting in damaged brain tissue. An interruption can be caused by clots that block blood flow, or by bleeding in the brain from a ruptured blood vessel or a significant injury.

Systolic Blood Pressure: the highest force of blood against the walls of the artery when the heart contracts or squeezes blood into the blood vessels. It is the "top" number when referring to a specific blood pressure. For example, if your blood pressure is 120 over 80 or 120/80, the systolic measurement is 120.

TIA (transient ischemic attack): a "mini-stroke," or a warning of an impending stroke. A TIA takes place when blood flow to part of the brain is briefly interrupted.

tPa: a thrombolytic agent, or "clot buster" medication. tPa may be used as treatment for acute ischemic stroke (stroke of sudden onset, caused by a clot blocking blood flow to part of the brain).

Ultrasound: a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of body organs and systems.