Information for Patients
High Blood Pressure
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps 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 called diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually the systolic number comes before or above the diastolic number. For example, 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.
How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. So the only way to find out if you have it is to get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider. Your provider will use a gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. He or she will take two or more readings at separate appointments before making a diagnosis.
You have high blood pressure if your readings show that
- Your systolic is 140 or higher OR
- Your diastolic is 90 or higher
Some providers may consider you to have high blood pressure if you have other heart risk factors and
- Your systolic is between 130 and 139 OR
- Your diastolic is between 80 and 89
Blood pressure readings above 180 /120 are dangerously high and require immediate medical attention.
For children and teens, the health care provider compares the blood pressure reading to what is normal for other kids who are the same age, height, and gender.
What are the different types of high blood pressure?
There are two main types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary high blood pressure.
- Primary, or essential, high blood pressure is the most common type of high blood pressure. For most people who get this kind of blood pressure, it develops over time as you get older.
- Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or use of certain medicines. It usually gets better after you treat that condition or stop taking the medicines that are causing it.
Why do I need to worry about high blood pressure?
When your blood pressure stays high over time, it causes the heart to pump harder and work overtime, possibly leading to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure.
What are the treatments for high blood pressure?
Treatments for high blood pressure include heart-healthy lifestyle changes and medicines.
You will work with your provider to come up with a treatment plan. It may include only the lifestyle changes. These changes, such as heart-healthy eating and exercise, can be very effective. But sometimes the changes do not control or lower your high blood pressure. Then you may need to take medicine. There are different types of blood pressure medicines. Some people need to take more than one type.
If your high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or medicine, treating that condition or stopping the medicine may lower your blood pressure.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute