High blood pressure (hypertension) is a condition in which the force of blood pumping through the arteries is consistently too high. When this occurs, the walls of the arteries are expanded beyond their normal limit, which can lead to damage and scarring and put people at risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Blood pressure is expressed in two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure (the first/top number): measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats
- Diastolic blood pressure (the second/bottom number): measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is at rest between beats
High, elevated, and normal blood pressure is usually defined in the following ranges.
|Blood Pressure Category||Blood Pressure Level|
|Normal blood pressure||Less than 120/80 mmHg|
Elevated blood pressure (prehypertension/at risk for high blood pressure)
|Between 120/80 and 139/89|
|High blood pressure (hypertension)||140/90 mmHg or more|
High blood pressure (hypertension) is often called “the silent killer” because it’s common for people who have it to have no symptoms and people often don’t feel anything abnormal. A healthcare professional can measure blood pressure to know for sure if you have high blood pressure.
Uncommonly, severe high blood pressure can cause or be accompanied by symptoms such as:
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Risk factors for developing high blood pressure (hypertension) include:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Men are more likely to develop high blood pressure than women up to age 64
- Beginning at age 65, women are more likely to develop high blood pressure than men
- African-Americans in the U.S. tend to develop high blood pressure more often than other races
Risk factors for developing high blood pressure that can be managed or prevented include:
How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
Blood pressure is measured with a pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer) placed around the upper arm and manually or electronically inflated. When inflated, the cuff compresses the brachial artery, the major blood vessel of the upper arm, briefly stopping blood flow. The air in the cuff is then released slowly while the person performing the measurement listens with a stethoscope or monitors an electronic readout.
Adults 20 years of age and older should have their blood pressure checked during regular doctor visits.
What Is the Treatment for High Blood Pressure?
Lifestyle changes are usually the first line treatment for high blood pressure (hypertension), including:
- Eating a balanced diet that low in salt
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol
- Not smoking
- Managing stress
- Getting enough sleep
- Taking medications as directed
When medications are needed to treat high blood pressure, they may include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Peripherally acting alpha-adrenergic blockers
- Centrally-acting alpha adrenergics
- Angiotensin II antagonists (ARBs)
- Calcium channel blockers
- Diuretics (“water pills”)
- Renin inhibitors
- Combination medicines made up of two or more different kinds of blood pressure medicines
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors