High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a disease. Even though it typically has no symptoms, HBP can have deadly health consequences if not treated.

The first step in preventing and controlling high blood pressure is to learn the answers to a few questions, such as:

Are you informed about high blood pressure?

Look at the facts about blood pressure so you can better understand how your body works and why it is smart to start protecting yourself now, no matter what your blood pressure numbers are.

What is high blood pressure, and what happens in a person's body that makes it dangerous?

Over time, if the force of the blood flow is often high, the tissue that makes up the walls of arteries gets stretched beyond its healthy limit. This creates problems in several ways.

What do the numbers in a blood pressure reading mean?

The two numbers tell you the amount of force pushing against your artery walls when the heart is contracting and when the heart is at rest. Find out why these numbers are so important to your health.

When does HBP require emergency medical treatment?

High blood pressure often does its damage without creating symptoms, but when blood pressure numbers rise above 180 for the systolic pressure or 110 for the diastolic pressure, you need emergency treatment.

When is blood pressure too low?

Although it is possible that low blood pressure can alert you to a problem, it is usually only dangerous if it causes notable signs and symptoms.

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the heart-to-lungs system. Your blood has two loops in the circulation system. One goes to the body. The other goes to your lungs.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health factors that indicate a higher risk for heart disease. Blood pressure is one measurement on the list.

What is the difference between blood pressure and heart rate?

Blood pressure is the amount of force on your arteries and your heart rate is the number of times per minute your heart beats. Find out more about the impact of these numbers on your health.

Understanding Blood Pressure Readings

Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers, written as a ratio like this:

Read as "117 over 76 millimeters of mercury"

The top number, which is also the higher of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts).

The bottom number, which is also the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).

This chart reflects blood pressure categories defined by the American Heart Association.

  • Your doctor should evaluate unusually low blood pressure readings.

Your healthcare providers will want to get an accurate picture of your blood pressure and chart what happens over time. Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. While BP can change from minute to minute with changes in posture, exercise, stress or sleep, it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (less than 120 systolic AND less than 80 diastolic) for an adult age 20 or over.

If your blood pressure reading is higher than normal, your doctor may take several readings over time and/or have you monitor your blood pressure at home before diagnosing you with high blood pressure.

A single high reading does not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure. However, if readings stay at 140/90 mm Hg or above (systolic 140 or above OR diastolic 90 or above) over time, your doctor will likely want you to begin a treatment program. Such a program almost always includes lifestyle changes and often prescription medication for those with readings of 140/90 or higher.

If, while monitoring your blood pressure, you get a systolic reading of 180 mm Hg or higher OR a diastolic reading of 110 mm HG or higher, wait a couple of minutes and take it again. If the reading is still at or above that level, you should seek immediate emergency medical treatment for a hypertensive crisis.

Even if your blood pressure is normal, you should consider making lifestyle modifications to prevent the development of HBP and improve your heart health.

Typically more attention is given to the top number (the systolic blood pressure) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50 years old. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.

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