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Hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. It carries with it an increased risk of death and disability from coronary artery disease (CAD), stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.
High blood pressure is very common but can't be seen or felt. Many people with high blood pressure don't know they have it. The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to keep track of your numbers. You can get your blood pressure checked at your doctor's office, at home, or at your local pharmacy. It's important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.
High blood pressure is defined by 2 numbers (systolic and diastolic). The systolic or top number measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is pushing. The diastolic or bottom number measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.
In general, systolic blood pressure (SBP) less than 120 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) less than 80 mm Hg are considered normal. Your doctor will help you decide what your specific blood pressure goals should be. They will consider factors like your overall health and age. Targets may be lower for those with diabetes or kidney disease. Even slightly higher blood pressure can increase the risk of complications with these health issues.
There is no single cause for high blood pressure, but there are several factors that can increase your risk.
Some risk factors for high blood pressure include:
Medical factors, such as:
Lifestyle factors, such as:
Risk factors don't mean you will get high blood pressure, but that you have an increased chance of developing it. Fortunately, there are also factors that can help you prevent high blood pressure or lower your blood pressure if you already have elevated blood pressure.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s recommendations to help prevent or lower high blood pressure include:
Another approach endorsed by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is use of the DASH diet. This is a special low-salt diet which has been shown effective in both preventing and treating high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a major player in heart disease and stroke. Protect yourself and know your numbers. The next time you take a trip to the pharmacy, check your blood pressure. If you do it on a regular basis and follow the lifestyle guidelines, you may be able to avoid future problems.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart & Stroke Foundation
Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, et al. Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. Hypertension. 2003;42(6):1206-1252.
How can high blood pressure be prevented? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/prevention. Updated September 10, 2015. Accessed August 2, 2016.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 2, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2018.
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Preventing high blood pressure: Healthy living habits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/what_you_can_do.htm. Accessed August 5, 2018.
Understanding your risk for high blood pressure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/UnderstandYourRiskforHighBloodPressure/Understand-Your-Risk-for-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002052_Article.jsp#.V6CgG02FPIU. Accessed August 5, 2018.
Whelton PK, He J, Appel LJ, et al. Clinical and public health advisory from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program. JAMA. 2002;288(15):1882-1888.
Last reviewed August 2018 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/13/2019