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The arteries are the large blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to all the organs and muscles of the body, to give them the energy and oxygen they need. The arteries manage the flow of blood by controlling the speed and direction it flows in.
Because the blood inside the arteries is being pushed round by the heart, the blood pushes against the insides of the artery walls. This pushing is your blood pressure. To cope with this pressure, the artery walls contain tiny muscles to hold them in shape and allow them to become wider or narrower.
Opening and closing different arteries affects your blood pressure. The more narrow your arteries are, the less space there is for your blood to flow in and the harder it pushes against the arteries’ walls.
How your arteries affect your blood pressure
High blood pressure can affect the ability of the arteries to open and close. If your blood pressure is too high, the muscles in the artery wall will respond by pushing back harder. This will make them grow bigger, which makes your artery walls thicker.
Thicker arteries mean that there is less space for the blood to flow through. This wil raise your blood pressure even further.
What happens when your arteries become too narrow
The higher your blood pressure is, the greater the chance that the extra pressure could make a weak artery burst. Also, the narrower your arteries are, the greater the risk that they could become blocked.
If an artery bursts or becomes blocked, the part of the body that gets its blood from that artery will be starved of the energy and oxygen it needs and the cells in the affected area will die.
If the burst artery supplies a part of the brain then the result is a stroke. If the burst artery supplies a part of the heart, then that area of heart muscle will die, causing a heart attack.
How you can help your arteries
You can help your arteries to stay healthy by keeping your blood pressure controlled, and by following a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy eating will give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to keep it in good condition. Getting active will also keep your heart and blood vessels fit and healthy.
Many of the medicines used to treat high blood pressure work to keep the arteries wider. They do this by acting on directly on the muscles in the artery wall, or by controlling hormones that act on these muscles.