High blood pressure (hypertension) describes a condition in which the force of blood pumping through the arteries is consistently too high. When this happens, the walls of the arteries are extended beyond their normal limit, which can lead to damage and scarring, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
When blood pressure is high, diet changes are the first-line treatment. A person with high blood pressure should follow a heart-healthy diet. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is considered a heart-healthy approach.
9 DASH Diet Foods That Lower High Blood Pressure
The DASH eating plan does not require any special foods but there are daily and weekly nutritional goals. The DASH plan recommends eating:
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
13 Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure
The DASH eating plan also recommends avoiding or limiting foods such as:
- Foods high in saturated fat
- Fatty meats
- Full fat dairy products
- Tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Processed meats
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fried foods
- Many fast foods and frozen foods (also often high in sodium)
- Sugar-sweetened foods
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Salty foods (foods high in sodium)
Lifestyle Changes to Lower Blood Pressure
Other lifestyle changes used to treat high blood pressure include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Managing stress
- Getting enough sleep
- Taking medications as directed
10 Medications for High Blood Pressure
When medications are needed to treat high blood pressure, they may include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Peripherally acting alpha-adrenergic blockers
- Diuretics (“water pills”)
- Angiotensin II antagonists (ARBs)
- Centrally-acting alpha adrenergics
- Renin inhibitors
- Combination medicines, made up of two or more different kinds of blood pressure medicines
What Are Symptoms of Hypertension?
High blood pressure (hypertension) is commonly called “the silent killer” because people who have it often have no symptoms. A healthcare professional can measure blood pressure to know for sure if you have hypertension.
Uncommonly, severe high blood pressure can cause or be accompanied by symptoms such as:
What Causes Hypertension?
Risk factors for developing hypertension include:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Men are more likely to develop high blood pressure than women up to age 64
- Starting 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
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet, especially one high in salt (sodium), saturated and trans fats, calories, and sugars
- Being overweight or obese
- Excess alcohol intake
- High cholesterol
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Untreated obstructive sleep apnea
How Is Hypertension 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, stopping blood flow briefly. Then the air in the cuff is 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.
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 in the table below.
|Blood Pressure Category||Systolic mm Hg/Diastolic mm Hg|
|High blood pressure||140/90 mmHg or more|
|Elevated blood pressure levels (prehypertension and at risk for developing high blood pressure)||between 120/80 and 139/89|
|Normal blood pressure||less than 120/80 mmHg|