Blood pressure is the force that blood puts on the blood vessel walls. Blood pressure measurements include 2 numbers:
The American Heart Association (AHA) uses the following blood pressure categories:
High blood pressure puts stress on the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels. Over time, this condition can damage these organs and tissues.
Organs Impacted by High Blood Pressure
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The body has a number of steps to help keep blood pressure in a healthy range. It is not clear what changes happen in this process that causes primary hypertension. It develops gradually over time.
High blood pressure develops over time. It is most common in older adults, especially postmenopausal women.
Factors that may increase the risk of high blood pressure include:
High blood pressure usually does not cause symptoms.
If blood pressure reaches extreme levels, symptoms may include:
High blood pressure is often diagnosed during a doctor's visit. Blood pressure is measured using an arm cuff and a special device. If the reading is high, you will come back for repeat checks. High blood pressure will be confirmed using the average of more than 2 readings over more than 2 separate visits.
Sometimes people become anxious at the doctor's office. This may result in a higher than normal blood pressure reading. You may be asked to measure your blood pressure at home or in another location.
Treatment will focus on reducing the pressure on the blood vessels. Improving the blood pressure will help to decrease the stress on important organs. It can also decrease the risk of:
Treatment may need to be adjusted over time. Options may include:
Lifestyle changes may be effective in reducing blood pressure. It is often the first approach. Recommended steps include:
Medications may be needed to help decrease blood pressure that does not respond to lifestyle changes. Some medication options include:
To help reduce the risk of high blood pressure:
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Chobanian AV. Clinical practice. Isolated systolic hypertension in the elderly. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:789-796.
Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. The JNC 7 report. JAMA. 2003;289:2560-2572.
High blood pressure or hypertension. American Heart Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed September 1, 2017.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated August 17, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017.
What is high blood pressure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated September 10, 2015. Accessed September 1, 2017.
9/2/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension: Forman J, Stampfer M, Curhan G. Diet and lifestyle risk factors associated with incident hypertension in women. JAMA. 2009;302(4):401-411.
10/17/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension: National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC). Guideline summary: Hypertension evidence-based nutrition practice guideline. In: National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC) [Web site]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ); 2015 Jan 01. [cited 2016 Oct 17]. Available: https://www.guideline.gov. Accessed October 17, 2016.
1/5/2018 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension: Whelton PK, Carey RM, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: Executive Summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Hypertension. 2017 Nov 13. [Epub ahead of print].
Last reviewed January 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 2/8/2018
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