High Blood Pressure/Hypertension

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the
artery walls. The force is made with each heartbeat as blood is pumped from the
heart into the blood vessels.  This is called systolic blood pressure. Blood
pressure is also affected by the size of the artery walls and their elasticity. Each
time the heart beats (contracts and relaxes), pressure is created inside the
arteries.  When the heart is relaxed, the arteries stay at a lower resting tone to
maintain some pressure in the artery. This is called diastolic blood pressure. 

High blood pressure is when the force of the blood is too high
during heart contraction or relaxation within the arteries. The arteries may have an
increased resistance against the flow of blood. This causes your heart to pump
harder to circulate the blood.

What causes high blood pressure?

These factors may cause high blood pressure:

  • Being overweight
  • Having lots of salt in your diet
  • Not getting much physical activity
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • High stress levels
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Kidney disease

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

More than half of all adult Americans have high blood pressure.
You are at risk for it if you:

  • Have diabetes, gout, or kidney disease
  • Are African American, especially if you live in the
    southeastern U.S.
  • Are middle-aged or older
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Eat a lot of high-salt foods
  • Are overweight
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Take birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
  • Have depression
  • Are pregnant
  • Smoke or use e-cigarettes
  • Use stimulant drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure often has no symptoms. But you can find out if
your blood pressure is higher than normal by checking it yourself or by having it
checked regularly by your healthcare provider.

Very high blood pressure can cause symptoms. These include
headache, changes in vision, or chest pain.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

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. You can find one at most

Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure:

  • The top number is the systolic
    This is the pressure inside the artery when the heart
    contracts and pumps blood through the body.
  • The bottom number is the
    diastolic pressure.
    This is the pressure inside the artery when the
    heart is at rest and is filling with blood.

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 rated as normal, elevated, or stage 1 or stage 2
high blood pressure:

  • Normal blood pressure is systolic of less than 120 and
    diastolic of less than 80 (120/80).
  • Elevated blood pressure is systolic of 120 to 129 and
    diastolic less than 80.
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure is when systolic is 130 to 139
    or diastolic is 80 to 89.
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure is when systolic is 140 or
    higher or diastolic is 90 or higher.

Even higher blood pressure is called a hypertensive crisis. This
means the systolic blood pressure is 180 or higher, the diastolic blood pressure is
more than 120, or both. If you have this, you need a change in your medicine right
away or a stay in the hospital.

A single higher blood pressure measurement does not necessarily
mean you have a problem. Your healthcare provider will want to see several blood
pressure measurements over a number of days or weeks before diagnosing high blood
pressure and starting treatment. Ask your provider when you should call if your
blood pressure readings are not within the normal range.