High Blood Pressure
Also called: HBP, HTN, Hypertension
What is high blood pressure?
Imagine that your arteries are pipes that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) occurs when your blood moves through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal.
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Usually they are written one above or before the other. A reading of
- 120/80 or lower is normal blood
- 140/90 or higher is high blood pressure
- 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number is prehypertension
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, but it can cause serious problems with such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure. You can control high blood pressure through healthy lifestyle habits and taking medicines, if needed.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher. Both numbers are important.
Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. The good news is that it can be treated and controlled.
High blood pressure is called the silent killer because it usually has no symptoms. Some people may not find out they have it until they have trouble with their heart, brain, or kidneys. When high blood pressure is not found and treated, it can cause:
What Is Blood Pressure?
- The heart to get larger, which may lead to heart failure.
- Small bulges (aneurysms (AN-u-risms)) to form in blood vessels. Common locations are the main artery from the heart (aorta); arteries in the brain, legs, and intestines; and the artery leading to the spleen.
- Blood vessels in the kidney to narrow, which may cause kidney failure.
- Arteries throughout the body to "harden" faster, especially those in the heart, brain, kidneys, and legs. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or amputation of part of the leg.
- Blood vessels in the eyes to burst or bleed, which may cause vision changes and can result in blindness.
Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of your body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Each time the heart beats (about 60–70 times a minute at rest), it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is at its highest when the heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic (sis-TOL-ik) pressure. When the heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic (di-a-STOL-ik) pressure.
Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. Usually they are written one above or before the other, such as 120/80 mmHg (measured in millimeters of mercury, a unit for measuring pressure). When the two measurements are written down, the systolic pressure is the first or top number, and the diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number (for example, 120/80). If your blood pressure is 120/80, you say that it is "120 over 80."
Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest as you sleep and rises when you get up. It also can rise when you are excited, nervous, or active.
Still, for most of your waking hours, your blood pressure stays pretty much the same when you are sitting or standing still. That level should be lower than 120/80 mmHg. When the level stays high, 140/90 mmHg or higher, you have high blood pressure. With high blood pressure, the heart works harder, your arteries take a beating, and your chances of a stroke, heart attack, and kidney problems are greater.
What Is Normal Blood Pressure?
A blood pressure reading below 120/80 mmHg is considered normal. In general, lower is better. However, very low blood pressure can sometimes be a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor.
Doctors classify blood pressures under 140/90 mmHg as either normal or prehypertension.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
- Normal blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg.
- Prehypertension is blood pressure between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number. If your blood pressure is in the prehypertension range, it is more likely that you will end up with high blood pressure unless you take action to prevent it.
A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high blood pressure. Both numbers are important. If one or both numbers are usually high, you have high blood pressure.
If you are being treated for high blood pressure and have repeated readings in the normal range, you still have high blood pressure.
For adults 18 and older who are not on medicine for high blood pressure; are not having a short-term serious illness; and do not have other conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease.
Note: When systolic and diastolic blood pressures fall into different categories, the higher category should be used to classify blood pressure level. For example, 160/80 mmHg would be stage 2 high blood pressure.
There is an exception to the above definition of high blood pressure. A blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher is considered high blood pressure in people with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
High Blood Pressure: Things You Can Do to Help Lower Yours
How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
Blood pressure is measured by putting a blood pressure cuff around your arm, inflating the cuff and listening for the flow of blood. Your doctor will measure your blood pressure at more than one visit to see if you have high blood pressure.
How often should I have my blood pressure checked?
Even in children, blood pressure should be checked occasionally, beginning at about age 2. After age 21, have your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years. Do it more often if you have had high blood pressure in the past.
What problems does high blood pressure cause?
High blood pressure damages your blood vessels. This in turn raises your risk of stroke, kidney failure, heart disease and heart attack.
Does it have any symptoms?
Not usually. This is why it's so important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
How is it treated?
Treatment begins with changes you can make to your lifestyle to help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. If these changes don't work, you may also need to take medicine.
Even if you must take medicine, making some changes in your lifestyle can help reduce the amount of medicine you must take.
How do tobacco products affect blood pressure?
The nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products causes your blood vessels to constrict and your heart to beat faster, which temporarily raises your blood pressure. If you quit smoking or using other tobacco products, you can significantly lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack, as well as help lower your blood pressure.
What about losing weight and exercising?
If you're overweight, losing weight usually helps lower blood pressure. Regular exercise is a good way to lose weight. It also seems to lower high blood pressure by itself.
Is sodium really off limits?
Not everyone is affected by sodium, but sodium can increase blood pressure in some people. Most people who have high blood pressure should limit the sodium in their diet each day to less than 2,400 mg. Your doctor may tell you to limit your sodium even more.
Don't add salt to your food. Check food labels for sodium. While some foods obviously have a lot of sodium, such as potato chips, you may not realize how much sodium is in things like bread and cheese.
Do I need to quit drinking alcohol altogether?
In some people, alcohol causes blood pressure to rise quite a lot. In other people, it doesn't. If you drink alcohol, limit it to no more than 1 or 2 drinks per day. One drink is a can of beer, a glass of wine or 1 jigger of liquor. If your blood pressure increases with alcohol, it's best not to drink any alcohol.
Does stress affect my blood pressure?
Stress may affect blood pressure. To help combat the effects of stress, try relaxation techniques or biofeedback. These things work best when used at least once a day. Ask your family doctor for advice.
What about medicine?
Many different types of medicine can be used to treat high blood pressure. These are called antihypertensive medicines.
The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure to normal levels with medicine that's easy to take and has few, if any, side effects. This goal can almost always be met.
If your blood pressure can only be controlled with medicine, you'll need to take the medicine for the rest of your life. Don't stop taking the medicine without talking with your family doctor or you may increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
What are the possible side effects of medicine?
Different drugs have different side effects for different people. Side effects of antihypertensive drugs can include feeling dizzy when you stand up after lying down or sitting, lowered levels of potassium in your blood, problems sleeping, drowsiness, dry mouth, headaches, bloating, constipation and depression. In men, some antihypertensive drugs can cause problems with having an erection.
Talk to your family doctor about any changes you notice. If one medicine doesn't work for you or causes side effects, you have other options. Let your doctor help you find the right medicine for you.