Overview: High blood pressure is a common and dangerous condition. Having high blood pressure means the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels is higher than it should be. But you can take steps to control your blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
About 1 of 3 U.S. adults—or about 70 million people—have high blood pressure.1 Only about half (52%) of these people have their high blood pressure under control.1 This common condition increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, 2 of the leading causes of death for Americans.2
High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it. That’s why it is important to check your blood pressure regularly.
The good news is that you can take steps to prevent high blood pressure or to control it if your blood pressure is already high.
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Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. But if it stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart and lead to health problems. High blood pressure raises your risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States.
High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it.
Rarely, high blood pressure can cause symptoms like headaches or vomiting.
There’s only one way to know whether you have high blood pressure—have a doctor or other health professional measure it. Measuring your blood pressure is quick and painless.
Fortunately, you can control your blood pressure to lower your risk for serious health problems.
Decreased Blood Flow to the Heart
High blood pressure can harden your arteries, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and lead to heart disease. In addition, decreased blood flow to the heart can cause:
Chest pain, also called angina.
Heart failure, a condition when your heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs.
Heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle begins to die without enough oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.
High blood pressure can burst or block arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a stroke. Brain cells die during a stroke because they do not get enough oxygen. Stroke can cause serious disabilities in speech, movement, and other basic activities, and a stroke can kill you.
Adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, or both have a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease than those without these diseases. Approximately 1 of 3 adults with diabetes and 1 of 5 adults with high blood pressure have chronic kidney disease.
How Blood Pressure is Measured
First, a doctor or other health professional wraps a special cuff around your arm. The cuff has a gauge on it that will read your blood pressure. The doctor then inflates the cuff to squeeze your arm.
After the cuff is inflated, the doctor will slowly let air out. While doing this, he or she will listen to your pulse with a stethoscope and watch the gauge. The gauge uses a scale called “millimeters of mercury” (mmHg) to measure the pressure in your blood vessels.
Another option is to get a blood pressure measurement from the machines available at many pharmacies. There are also home monitoring devices for blood pressure that you can use yourself.
What Blood Pressure Numbers Mean
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels 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.”
The chart below shows normal, at-risk, and high blood pressure levels. A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more is too high. People with levels in between 120/80 and 140/90 have a condition called prehypertension, which means they are at high risk for high blood pressure.
You can make changes to your lifestyle that will help you control your blood pressure. Your doctor might prescribe medications that can help you. By controlling your blood pressure, you will lower your risk for the harmful effects of high blood pressure.
Work with Your Health Care Team
Team-based care that includes you, your doctor, and other health care providers can help reduce and control blood pressure.1
If you already have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medications and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are just as important as medications. Follow your doctor’s instructions and stay on your medications. Do not stop taking your medications before talking to your doctor or pharmacist.
All drugs may have side effects, so talk to your doctor regularly. As your blood pressure improves, your doctor will check it often.
Make Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle changes can help you control your blood pressure.
Eat a healthy diet that is:
- Low in salt (sodium), total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
- High in fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Be active. Try taking a brisk 10-minute walk 3 times a day 5 days a week.
- Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Visit Smokefree.gov for tips on quitting.
Guide to Community Preventive Services. Cardiovascular disease prevention and control: team-based care to improve blood pressure control Web site. Accessed June 24, 2014.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
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