What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of your blood as it flows through the arteries in your body. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. When your heart beats, it pushes blood through your arteries. As the blood flows, it puts pressure on your artery walls. This is called blood pressure.
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) happens when your blood moves through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal. Many different things can cause high blood pressure. If your blood pressure gets too high or stays high for a long time, it can cause health problems. Uncontrolled high blood pressure puts you at a higher risk for stroke, heart disease, heart attack, and kidney failure.
What do blood pressure numbers mean?
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers:
The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, “120 over 80,” or write, “120/80 mmHg.”
What Is “Normal” Blood Pressure?
- Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
- Elevated: 120-129/less than 80
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 130-139/80-89
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 140 and above/90 and above
- Hypertension crisis: higher than 180/higher than 120 — See a doctor right away
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
Most people who have high blood pressure do not have symptoms. This is why it’s sometimes called “the silent killer.” It is very important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
Some people experience headaches, nosebleeds, or shortness of breath with high blood pressure. However, those symptoms can mimic many other things (serious or non-serious). Usually, these symptoms occur once blood pressure has reached a dangerously high level over a period of time.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
There are two types of high blood pressure.
Primary (essential) hypertension
For most adults, there’s no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure, called primary (essential) hypertension, tends to develop gradually over many years.
Though essential hypertension remains somewhat mysterious, it has been linked to certain risk factors. High blood pressure tends to run in families and is more likely to affect men than women. Age and race also play a role.
Essential hypertension is also greatly influenced by diet and lifestyle. The link between salt and high blood pressure is especially compelling. Most people with high blood pressure are “salt sensitive,” meaning that anything more than the minimal bodily need for salt is too much for them and increases their blood pressure.
Other factors that can raise the risk of having essential hypertension include obesity; diabetes; stress; insufficient intake of potassium, calcium, and magnesium; lack of physical activity; and chronic alcohol consumption.
Some people have high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure, called secondary hypertension, tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension. Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Kidney problems
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Thyroid problems
- Certain defects you’re born with (congenital) in blood vessels
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
- Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines
What can I do to prevent or manage high blood pressure?
Many people with high blood pressure can lower their blood pressure into a healthy range or keep their numbers in a healthy range by making lifestyle changes.
- Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week)
- Not smoking
- Eating a healthy diet, including limiting sodium (salt) and alcohol
- Keeping a healthy weight
- Managing stress
In addition to making positive lifestyle changes, some people with high blood pressure need to take medicine to manage their blood pressure.
By taking action to lower your blood pressure, you can help protect yourself against heart disease and stroke, also sometimes called cardiovascular disease (CVD).