Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Knowing your blood pressure and remembering to check it regularly can help save your life. Choosing healthier, heart-conscious foods, maintaining a healthy weight, getting up and staying active, and managing your stress are great ways to help keep your blood pressure at the level it should be. Learn more about what you can do to help control your blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure. Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually they're written one above or before the other, such as 120/80. If your blood pressure reading is 90/60 or lower, you have low blood pressure.
Once the diagnosis of hypertension has been made, healthcare providers should attempt to identify the underlying cause based on risk factors and other symptoms, if present. Secondary hypertension is more common in preadolescent children, with most cases caused by kidney disease. Primary or essential hypertension is more common in adolescents and has multiple risk factors, including obesity and a family history of hypertension. Laboratory tests can also be performed to identify possible causes of secondary hypertension, and to determine whether hypertension has caused damage to the heart, eyes, and kidneys. Additional tests for diabetes and high cholesterol levels are usually performed because these conditions are additional risk factors for the development of heart disease and may require treatment.
Many mechanisms have been proposed to account for the rise in peripheral resistance in hypertension. Most evidence implicates either disturbances in the kidneys' salt and water handling (particularly abnormalities in the intrarenal renin–angiotensin system) or abnormalities of the sympathetic nervous system. These mechanisms are not mutually exclusive and it is likely that both contribute to some extent in most cases of essential hypertension. It has also been suggested that endothelial dysfunction and vascular inflammation may also contribute to increased peripheral resistance and vascular damage in hypertension. Interleukin 17 has garnered interest for its role in increasing the production of several other immune system chemical signals thought to be involved in hypertension such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and interleukin 8.
Obesity: As body weight increases, the blood pressure rises. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m. A BMI of 25-30 kg/m is considered overweight (BMI=weight in pounds x 703/ height in inches). Being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure. Healthcare professionals recommend that all individuals who are obese and have high blood pressure lose weight until they are within 15% of their healthy body weight.
Facial flushing: Facial flushing occurs when blood vessels in the face dilate. It can occur unpredictably or in response to certain triggers such as sun exposure, cold weather, spicy foods, wind, hot drinks and skin-care products. Facial flushing can also occur with emotional stress, exposure to heat or hot water, alcohol consumption and exercise — all of which can raise blood pressure temporarily. While facial flushing may occur while your blood pressure is higher than usual, high blood pressure is not the cause of facial flushing.
Hypertension is the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide. It increases the risk of ischemic heart disease, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, and other cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, aortic aneurysms, diffuse atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and pulmonary embolism. Hypertension is also a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia. Other complications include hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive nephropathy.
As you get older, high blood pressure, especially isolated systolic hypertension, is more common and can increase your risk of serious health problems. Treatment, especially if you have other medical conditions, requires ongoing evaluation and discussions with your doctor to strike the best balance of reducing risks and maintaining a good quality of life.
You can have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and still feel just fine. That's because high blood pressure often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. But, high blood pressure, sometimes called "the silent killer," is very common in older people and a major health problem. If high blood pressure isn't controlled with lifestyle changes and medicine, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, eye problems, kidney failure, and other health problems. High blood pressure can also cause shortness of breath during light physical activity or exercise.
We fund research. The research we fund today will help improve our future health. Our Division of Cardiovascular Sciences and its Vascular Biology and Hypertension Branch oversee much of the research we fund on the regulation of blood pressure, pathways involved in high blood pressure, and the complications from uncontrolled high blood pressure. The Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science supports research to translate these discoveries into clinical practice. Search the NIH RePORTer to learn about research NHLBI is funding on high blood pressure
High blood pressure is more common in older people. At age 45, more men have hypertension than women. By age 65, this is reversed and more women are affected. People with diabetes have a greater risk of hypertension than those without diabetes. Having a close family member with high blood pressure also increases your risk of developing it. About 60% of all people with diabetes also have hypertension.
High blood pressure is the #2 cause of kidney failure. It accounts for about one-fourth of all cases. High blood pressure can be both a cause of kidney disease and a symptom of kidney disease. When high blood pressure damages your kidneys, they are not able to do all their jobs as well—and one of their jobs is helping your body regulate your blood pressure.
Before measuring your blood pressure, do not smoke, drink caffeinated beverages, or exercise for at least 30 minutes before the test. Rest for at least five minutes before the measurements and sit still with your back straight and supported. Feet should be flat on the floor and not crossed. Your arm should also be supported on a flat surface like a table with the upper arm at heart level.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your healthcare provider or 911 immediately. Any mention of products or services is not meant as a guarantee, endorsement, or recommendation of the products, services, or companies. Reliance on any information provided is solely at your own risk. Please discuss any options with your healthcare provider.
Dietary changes can help control blood pressure. One diet designed to promote lower blood pressure is known as the DASH diet. This stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet recommends eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, nuts, and fish. Red meat, saturated fats, and sweets should be avoided. The DASH diet can lower blood pressure within 2 weeks. It can also help to reduce your intake of sodium. The following is the DASH diet suggested daily intake:
Most doctors do not make a final diagnosis of high blood pressure until they measure your blood pressure several times (at least 2 blood pressure readings on 3 different days). Some doctors ask their patients to wear a portable machine that measures their blood pressure over the course of several days. This machine may help the doctor find out whether a patient has true high blood pressure or what is known as “white-coat hypertension.” White-coat hypertension is a condition in which a patient’s blood pressure rises during a visit to a doctor when anxiety and stress probably play a role.
Dietary changes: The health care provider might recommend a diet that includes more vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables), fruits, low-fat dairy products, and fiber-rich foods, and fewer carbohydrates, fats, processed foods, and sugary drinks. He or she also might recommend preparing low-sodium dishes and not adding salt to foods. Watch out for foods with lots of hidden salt (like bread, sandwiches, pizza, and many restaurant and fast-food options).
This study will assess whether minocycline, an antibiotic with anti-inflammatory effects, can improve blood pressure control in patients who do not respond to medicines in combination with lifestyle changes, such as physical activity, weight loss, and healthy eating patterns. To participate you must be at least 18 years old and have high blood pressure that does not respond to treatment with three different high blood pressure medicines even when used at the maximum doses. Please note that this study is in Gainesville, Florida.
Exercise also causes vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, which increases blood flow and decreases peripheral resistance — which, in healthy people, keeps the diastolic blood pressure from rising during activity. In fact, a diastolic blood pressure increasing greater than 10 mmHg during or after exercise represents an unstable form of hypertension, and may be associated with coronary artery disease, notes Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico.
Adrenal insufficiency, for example, due to Addison's disease, can cause low blood pressure. Addison's disease is a disorder in which the adrenal glands (small glands next to the kidneys) are destroyed. The destroyed adrenal glands can no longer produce sufficient adrenal hormones (specifically cortisol) necessary to maintain normal bodily functions. Cortisol has many functions, one of which is to maintain blood pressure and the function of the heart. Addison's disease is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and, sometimes, darkening of the skin.
Low blood pressure readings in healthy people without symptoms or organ damage need no treatment. A doctor should evalute all patients with symptoms that are possibly due to low blood pressure. Patients who have had a major drop in blood pressure from their usual levels even without the development of symptoms also should be evaluated. The doctor needs to identify the cause of the low blood pressure; remedies will depend on the cause. For example, if a medication is causing the low blood pressure, the dose of medication may have to be reduced or the medication stopped. Do not adjust medication dose on your own, and do not stop taking any medication without first consulting your doctor.
High blood pressure often runs in families. Much of the understanding of the body systems involved in high blood pressure has come from genetic studies. Research has identified many gene variations associated with small increases in the risk of developing high blood pressure. New research suggests that certain DNA changes during fetal development may also lead to the development of high blood pressure later in life.
Stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback or transcendental meditation may be considered as an add-on to other treatments to reduce hypertension, but do not have evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease on their own. Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.