All About High Blood Pressure

If you have hypertension, also called high blood pressure, you are not alone. In the United States, about 68 million people have this condition. Effective blood pressure control can reduce the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and other serious health problems.

Blood Pressure

The heart pumps blood through the arteries. This action places pressure on the artery walls, and it is called blood pressure. A normal blood pressure is needed to properly deliver blood to the body. If blood pressure is too high over a long time, damage can occur to the heart, brain, arteries and kidneys.

A blood pressure reading has two numbers. The top number is higher than the bottom number. A normal blood pressure reading is between 90/50 and 119/79.

If you have a blood pressure reading above 120/80 for at least three readings in a row, you could have high blood pressure or hypertension.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

  • Heredity -- hypertension runs in families
  • Gender -- Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes; however, for people under 45, the condition affects more men than women; for those 65 and older, it affects more women than men
  • Age -- the older you get, the more likely of developing hypertension
  • Race -- African Americans develop high blood pressure more often, and at an earlier age, than whites and Mexican Americans
  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising
  • Having diabetes
  • Drinking too much alcohol


High Blood Pressure Damage

If blood pressure remains high over time, it can cause body organ damage in one of the following ways:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Blocked leg arteries
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure

The damage may occur gradually and may not be noticed until it becomes severe. This is why high blood pressure must be treated before symptoms of severe disease occur. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because in the early stages there are no symptoms.

Treating High Blood Pressure

Early, proper treatment will lower the chance of developing body organ damage.

Proper treatment includes medications and lifestyle changes.

When high blood pressure is first treated, a trial period may be necessary, to see which medication is most effective. It may be necessary to change medications, the dose, or add a second medication. You should take all medications as prescribed and report any side effects to your doctor. Speak with your doctor if you have trouble paying for the medication, there may be community or pharmaceutical programs that can provide the medication for you.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medications, making some simple changes in the way you live can help control your blood pressure.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid too much alcohol
  • Avoid too much salt in your diet
  • Control your cholesterol level by avoiding too much fat in the diet

This material provides general information only. It should not be used in place of the advice, instructions, or treatment given by your doctor or other health care professional.