High blood pressure is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher. Both num-bers are important. Nearly one in three American adults has high blood pressure. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. The good news is that it can be treated and controlled.
High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms. Some people may not find out they have it until they have trouble with their heart, brain, or kidneys. When high blood pressure is not found and treated, it can cause:
Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of your body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Each time the heart beats (about 60-70 times a minute at rest), it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is at its highest when the heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.
Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. Usually they are written one above or before the other, such as 120/80 mmHg. The top number is the systolic and the bottom the diastolic. When the two measurements are written down, the systolic pressure is the first or top number, and the diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number (for example, 120/80). If your blood pressure is 120/80, you say that it is "120 over 80."
Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest as you sleep and rises when you get up. It also can rise when you are excited, nervous, or active.
Still, for most of your waking hours, your blood pressure stays pretty much the same when you are sitting or standing still. That level should be lower than 120/80. When the level stays high, 140/90 or higher, you have high blood pressure. With high blood pressure, the heart works harder, your arteries take a beating, and your chances of a stroke, heart attack, and kidney problems are greater.
A blood pressure reading below 120/80 is considered normal. In general, lower is better. However, very low blood pressures can sometimes be a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor.
For example, blood pressure readings of 138/82, 128/89, or 130/86 are all in the "prehypertension" range. If your blood pressure is in the prehypertension range, it is more likely that you will end up with high blood pressure unless you take action to prevent it.
A blood pressure of 140/90 or higher is considered high blood pressure. Both numbers are important. If one or both numbers are usually high, you have high blood pressure. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, you still have high blood pressure even if you have re-peated readings in the normal range. There are two levels of high blood pressure: Stage 1 and Stage 2 (see the chart below). The guidelines apply to adults 18 and older who:
Note: When systolic and diastolic blood pressures fall into different categories, the higher category should be used to classify blood pressure level. For example, 160/80 would be stage 2 high blood pressure.
There is an exception to the above definition of high blood pressure. A blood pressure of 130/80 or higher is considered high blood pressure in persons with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
In many people with high blood pressure, a single specific cause is not known. This is called essential or primary high blood pressure. Research is continuing to find causes. In some people, high blood pressure is the result of another medical problem or medication. When the cause is known, this is called secondary high blood pressure.
About 65 million American adults—nearly 1 in 3—have high blood pressure. In the U.S., high blood pressure occurs more often in African Americans. Compared to other groups, blacks:
Many people get high blood pressure as they get older. Over half of all Americans age 60 and older have high blood pressure. This is not a part of healthy aging! There are things you can do to help keep your blood pressure normal, such as eating a healthy diet and getting more exercise. Your chances of getting high blood pressure are also higher if you:
Other things that can raise blood pressure include:
“About 65 million American adults—nearly 1 in 3—have high blood pressure.”
Only your doctor can tell you if you have high blood pressure. Most doctors will check your blood pressure several times on different days before deciding that you have high blood pressure. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is given if repeated readings are 140/90 or higher or 130/80 or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Having your blood pressure tested is quick and easy. Your doctor or nurse will use some type of a gauge, a stethoscope (or electronic sensor), and a blood pressure cuff, also called a sphygmomanometer (sfig-mo-ma-NOM-e-ter).
Blood pressure readings are usually taken when you are sitting or lying down and relaxed. Below are things you can do before going to get your blood pressure taken:
You also can check your blood pressure at home with a home blood pressure measurement device, or monitor. It is important that you understand how to use the monitor properly. Your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist can help you check the monitor and teach you how to use it correctly. You also may ask for their help in choosing the right blood pressure monitor for you. Blood pressure monitors can be bought at discount chain stores and pharmacies. Below are additional things to do when taking your blood pressure at home:
Some people's blood pressure is high only when they visit the doctor's office. This condition is called "white coat" hypertension. If your doctor suspects this, you may be asked to check and record your blood pressure at home with a home monitor. Another way to check blood pressure away from the doctor's office is by using an ambulatory blood pressure monitor. This device is worn for 24 hours and can take blood pressure every 30 minutes.
You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure. These steps include:
“Some people's blood pressure is high only when they visit the doctor's office. This condition is called "white coat" hypertension.”
Usually, the goal is to keep your blood pressure below 140/90 (130/80 if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease). Ask your doctor what your blood pressure goal should be. Some people can prevent or control high blood pressure by changing to healthier habits, such as:
Sometimes blood pressure stays too high even when a person makes these kinds of healthy changes. In that case, it is necessary to add medicine to help lower blood pressure. Medicines will control your blood pressure but they cannot cure it. You will need to take high blood pressure medicine for a long time.
Blood pressure medicines work in different ways to lower blood pressure. Often, two or more drugs work better than one. Some drugs lower blood pressure by removing extra fluid and salt from your body. Others affect blood pressure by slowing down the heartbeat, or by relaxing and widening blood vessels.
Below are the types of medicines used to treat high blood pressure:
It is important that you take your blood pressure medication the same time each day.
If you have high blood pressure, it is important that you:
Remember, high blood pressure has no symptoms. If you have it, you cannot tell by the way you feel when your blood pressure level is high.
Walking does wonders in helping to reduce the harmful effects of high blood pressure. But you have to leave time in your busy schedule to follow a walking program that will work for you. In planning your walking program, keep the following points in mind:
The more you walk, the better you will feel. You also will use more calories.
Answer the following questions before you begin a walking program.
In some women, blood pressure can increase if they use birth control pills, become pregnant, or take hormone therapy during menopause.
Many pregnant women with high blood pressure have healthy babies. However, high blood pressure can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. High blood pressure can harm the mother's kidneys and other organs, and it can cause low birth weight and early delivery.
If you are thinking about having a baby and you have high blood pressure, talk first to your doctor or nurse. You can take steps to control your blood pressure before and during pregnancy. Regular prenatal care (health care during pregnancy) is very important for you and your baby's health.
Some women develop high blood pressure for the first time in the middle of their preg-nancy. In the most serious cases, the mother develops a condition called preeclampsia or "toxemia of pregnancy." This condition can threaten the lives of both the mother and the unborn child.
Even though high blood pressure during pregnancy can be serious, most women with high blood pressure and those who develop preeclampsia have successful pregnancies. Getting early and regular prenatal care is the most important thing you can do for you and your baby.
Women taking birth control pills usually have a small increase in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure and are using birth control pills, get your blood pressure checked regularly and talk to your doctor about a possible rise in blood pressure and what you can do about it.
If you have high blood pressure, are age 35 or older, and also smoke, you should not take birth control pills unless you quit smoking. Women age 35 and older who smoke and use birth control pills are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. High blood pressure also raises your chances of stroke and heart disease.
If you are age 35 or older, are healthy, do not smoke, and your high blood pressure is controlled, it may be safe for you to use birth control pills. Ask your doctor if birth control pills are safe for you.
A recent study indicated that blood pressure does not increase significantly with HT in most women with and without high blood pressure. However, a few women may have a rise in blood pressure due to estrogen therapy. If you start taking HT, you should have your blood pressure checked regularly. Your doctor can help answer your questions.
How do I know if I’m having a heart attack?
The most common symptoms associated with a heart attack include: a burning, crushing, and/or squeezing pain or pressure in the chest; pain in the arms, neck, back, and/or jaw; or pain that doesn’t go away or lasts longer than 15 minutes.
What is normal blood pressure?
A blood pressure reading below 120/80 is considered normal. In general, lower is better.
If my blood pressure is in the "prehypertension" category, what should I do?
You should talk to your doctor or other health care provider about your blood pressure and what you can do to lower it. You may be able to lower your blood pressure by making changes in your diet, losing weight, exercising more often, or drinking less alcohol. You have "prehypertension" blood pressure when your systolic pressure is usually 120 to 139, or your diastolic pressure is usually 80 to 89.
Can drinking alcohol raise blood pressure?
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. If you drink alcohol, limit your drinks to just two a day for men and one a day for women. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of 80-proof whiskey.
Do children ever get high blood pressure?
Yes. However, high blood pressure is not as common in children as it is in adults. High blood pressure in younger children is often related to another health problem. Children with a family history of high blood pressure or who are overweight are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
Is salt and sodium the same thing?
The chemical name for salt is sodium chloride, so salt is partly sodium. Salt and other forms of sodium are found in many foods. Most Americans eat too much salt and sodium, and for many, that means higher blood pressure. Eating less salt and sodium in your diet can help lower your high blood pressure. Many snack foods, soups, lunchmeats, and other foods have a lot of sodium in them. Look at food labels to find products that are lower in sodium.
How do I know if I'm overweight?
Body mass index (BMI) is an easy way to find out if you are overweight or obese. BMI is calculated by relating how much you weigh to how tall you are. It gives an approximation of total body fat. As BMI goes up, so does your chance of getting high blood pressure, heart disease, and other diseases related to being overweight. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9; obesity is defined as a BMI equal to or more than 30.
This behavior change guide is designed to help you better understand the medical di-agnosis of high blood pressure and how you can keep it in check. More importantly, information is provided to help you prevent this silent killer altogether
The information in this brochure was drawn from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The information is in the public domain and may be used and reprinted without permission. For more information please refer to www.nhlbi.nih.gov. The information was updated in August 2004 and accessed in January 2005. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have any questions about managing your own health and/or seeking medical care, please contact a medical professional.
Wellness Councils of America9802 Nicholas Street, Suite 315Omaha, NE 68114-2106Phone: (402) 827-3590 Fax: (402) 827-3594 www.welcoa.org
2005 Wellness Councils of America
An Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.