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What Is High Blood Pressure?

blood pressure

High blood pressure is a common condition that affects the body’s arteries. It’s also called hypertension. If you have high blood pressure, the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls is consistently too high. The heart has to work harder to pump blood.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). In general, hypertension is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association divide blood pressure into four general categories. Ideal blood pressure is categorized as normal.)

  • Normal blood pressure. Blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg or lower.
  • Elevated blood pressure. The top number ranges from 120 to 129 mm Hg and the bottom number is below, not above, 80 mm Hg.
  • Stage 1 hypertension. The top number ranges from 130 to 139 mm Hg or the bottom number is between 80 and 89 mm Hg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension. The top number is 140 mm Hg or higher or the bottom number is 90 mm Hg or higher.

Blood pressure higher than 180/120 mm Hg is considered a hypertensive emergency or crisis. Seek emergency medical help for anyone with these blood pressure numbers.

Untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked at least every two years starting at age 18. Some people need more-frequent checks.

Healthy lifestyle habits —such as not smoking, exercising and eating well — can help prevent and treat high blood pressure. Some people need medicine to treat high blood pressure.

Symptoms

Most people with hypertension don’t feel any symptoms. Very high blood pressures can cause headaches, blurred vision, chest pain and other symptoms. 

Checking your blood pressure is the best way to know if you have high blood pressure. If hypertension isn’t treated, it can cause other health conditions like kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.

People with very high blood pressure (usually 180/120 or higher) can experience symptoms including:

  • severe headaches
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • blurred vision or other vision changes
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • buzzing in the ears
  • nosebleeds
  • abnormal heart rhythm

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and a high blood pressure, seek care immediately.

The only way to detect hypertension is to have a health professional measure blood pressure. Having blood pressure measured is quick and painless. Although individuals can measure their own blood pressure using automated devices, an evaluation by a health professional is important for assessment of risk and associated conditions.

Treatment

Lifestyle changes can help lower high blood pressure. These include:

  • eating a healthy, low-salt diet
  • losing weight
  • being physically active
  • quitting tobacco.

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend one or more medicines. Your recommended blood pressure goal may depend on what other health conditions you have. 

Blood pressure goal is less than 130/80 if you have:

  • cardiovascular disease (heart disease or stroke)
  • diabetes (high blood sugar)
  • chronic kidney disease
  • high risk for cardiovascular disease.

For most people, the goal is to have a blood pressure less than 140/90. 

There are several common blood pressure medicines: 

  • ACE inhibitors including enalapril and lisinopril relax blood vessels and prevent kidney damage.
  • Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs) including losartan and telmisartan relax blood vessels and prevent kidney damage.
  • Calcium channel blockers including amlodipine and felodipine relax blood vessels.
  • Diuretics including hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone eliminate extra water from the body, lowering blood pressure.
Mary Jones

Mary Jones

Mary started writing about health to document her own journey. She fell into some very bad habits and knew things had to change. That’s why she joined us to help as many people as possible with their health issues.

Mary Jones

Mary Jones

Mary started writing about health to document her own journey. She fell into some very bad habits and knew things had to change. That’s why she joined us to help as many people as possible with their health issues.

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