High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. The force
is generated with each heartbeat as blood is pumped from the heart into the blood
vessels. The size and elasticity of the artery walls also affect blood pressure. Each
time the heart beats (contracts and relaxes), pressure is created inside the arteries.
The pressure is greatest when blood is pumped out of the heart into the arteries.
When the heart relaxes between beats (blood is not moving out of the heart), the pressure
falls in the arteries.
Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure.
The top number, or systolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood
through the body.
The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling
Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are recorded as "mm Hg" (millimeters of
mercury). This recording represents how high the mercury column in the blood pressure
cuff is raised by the pressure of the blood.
Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope by a nurse or
other healthcare provider. You can also take your own blood pressure with an electronic
blood pressure monitor. These are available at most pharmacies.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, directly increases the risk of heart attack
and stroke. With high blood pressure, the arteries may have an increased resistance
against the flow of blood, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood.
Usually, high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. However, you can know if your
blood pressure is high by checking it yourself or by having it checked regularly by
your healthcare provider.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) has determined 2 levels of high blood pressure for adults:
The NHLBI defines prehypertension as:
The NHLBI guidelines define normal blood pressure as follows:
Use these numbers as a guide only. A single elevated blood pressure measurement is
not necessarily an indication of a problem. Your healthcare provider will want to
see multiple blood pressure measurements over several days or weeks before making
a diagnosis of high blood pressure and starting treatment. If you normally run a lower-than-usual
blood pressure, you may be diagnosed with high blood pressure with blood pressure
measurements lower than 140/90.
What are the risk factors for high blood pressure?
Nearly one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure, but it is particularly
People who have diabetes, gout, or kidney disease
African Americans (particularly those who live in the southeastern U.S.)
People in their early to middle adult years; men in this age group have higher blood
pressure more often than women in this age group
People in their middle to later adult years; women in this age group have higher blood
pressure more often than men in this age group (more women have high blood pressure
after menopause than men of the same age)
Middle-aged and elderly people; more than half of all Americans age 60 and older have
high blood pressure
People with a family history of high blood pressure
People consuming a high salt diet
Heavy drinkers of alcohol
Women who are taking oral contraceptives
People with depression
How does blood pressure increase?
The following conditions contribute to high blood pressure:
How is high blood pressure controlled?
These steps can help you control your blood pressure:
Take prescribed medicine exactly as directed by your healthcare provider
Choose foods that are low in sodium (salt)
Choose foods low in calories and fat
Choose foods high in fiber
Maintain a healthy weight, or losing weight if overweight
Limit serving sizes
Increase physical activity
Reduce or omit alcoholic beverages
Sometimes daily medicine is needed to control high blood pressure. If you have high
blood pressure, have your blood pressure checked routinely and see your healthcare
provider to monitor the condition.