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We tend not to think about our blood pressure — it’s a normal function of our heart working regularly. However, when blood pressure stays high over an extended period it means the heart is working harder than it should. Since hypertension usually doesn’t have symptoms, we don’t know what is happening unless we measure it. Accurately measuring blood pressure provides a glimpse into what’s happening inside our bodies without needing expensive diagnostic tests.


The cause for hypertension is not always known, although it can develop as a result of other health conditions including: sleep apnea, kidney problems, and thyroid issues. Beyond chronic health conditions, risk factors for hypertension include age, the amount of salt you eat, being overweight or obese, using tobacco, drinking excessively, not exercising, and having too little potassium in your diet.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.


An elevated blood pressure reading means that your blood pressure falls just above the normal level, corresponding to a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 or a diastolic pressure of 80 or less. The new guidelines eliminate the previous category of prehypertension. About one-fourth of Americans have elevated levels and they have two times the risk of heart disease compared with those who have lower blood pressures. Lifestyle changes can help many people with prehypertension lower their blood pressure.
Blood pressure changes throughout the day and varies from person to person. Various factors affect blood pressure, including your body position, breathing rhythm, stress level, physical activity, medications, what you eat or drink, and the time of the day (blood pressure is usually lowest at night when you sleep and rises when you wake up). In healthy individuals, your body responds and adapts to these changes to keep your blood pressure within a normal range. This ensures that vital organs, such as your brain and kidneys, receive a constant blood flow and nutrient supply.
African-Americans tend to develop hypertension earlier in life and often experience more severe blood pressure elevation. It is not known for sure why high blood pressure is more common in this group, but researchers theorize it may include higher rates of obesity and diabetes among African-Americans and a gene that makes African-Americans more sensitive to salt. In people who have this gene, even just one-half teaspoon of salt could elevate blood pressure as much as 5 mmHg. (5)
Another form of postural hypotension occurs typically in young healthy individuals. After prolonged standing, the individual's heart rate and blood pressure drop, causing dizziness, nausea, and often fainting. In these individuals, the autonomic nervous system wrongly responds to prolonged standing by directing the heart to slow down and the veins to dilate thereby removing blood from circulating in the arteries.
The first chemical for hypertension, sodium thiocyanate, was used in 1900 but had many side effects and was unpopular.[152] Several other agents were developed after the Second World War, the most popular and reasonably effective of which were tetramethylammonium chloride, hexamethonium, hydralazine, and reserpine (derived from the medicinal plant Rauwolfia serpentina). None of these were well tolerated.[159][160] A major breakthrough was achieved with the discovery of the first well-tolerated orally available agents. The first was chlorothiazide, the first thiazide diuretic and developed from the antibiotic sulfanilamide, which became available in 1958.[152][161] Subsequently, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and renin inhibitors were developed as antihypertensive agents.[158]
How do you check your own blood pressure? It is common to have your blood pressure checked at the doctor's office, but there are many cases where it is important to monitor it at home. It is easy to check blood pressure with an automated machine, but it can also be done manually at home. Learn how to check your own blood pressure and what the results mean. Read now
It is important to recognise that low blood pressure can cause no symptoms at all, and is a common normal finding in young people and athletes. However, in some people, low blood pressure causes symptoms which can significantly interfere with their quality of life. These can include syncope (fainting), pre-syncope (near fainting, usually associated with feeling light-headed), sweating, tiredness, slow thinking (brain fog), nausea, visual blurring, hearing disturbances, headache, palpitations, neck pain, breathlessness and chest pain.

If your blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower, it’s considered normal. Generally, if the blood pressure reading is under 90/60 mm Hg, it is abnormally low and is referred to as hypotension. Some adults regularly have a blood pressure in the hypotensive range, but have no symptoms at all and do not require treatment. In serious cases, though, hypotension can result in a decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain, which can eventually lead to life-threatening shock.
There is no treatment available for the causes of portal hypertension. However, treatment can prevent or manage the complications. Diet, medication (nonselective beta-blockers), endoscopic therapy, surgery, and radiology procedures can all help in treating or preventing symptoms of portal hypertension. If these treatments are unsuccessful in treating symptoms, transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) or distal splenorenal shunt (DSRA) are two procedures that may reduce pressure in the portal veins. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help to prevent portal hypertension.
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