How the heart pumps blood into the arteries with enough force to push blood to the far reaches of each organ from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Blood pressure can be defined as the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body. Blood pressure is highest as its leaves the heart through the aorta and gradually decreases as it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, and capillaries). Blood returns in the veins leading to the heart, aided by gravity and muscle contraction.
You are considered to have hypertension if your systolic blood pressure measurements are between 130 and 139 or your diastolic measurement falls between 80 and 89. At this level of blood pressure you may not have any symptoms. When blood pressure reaches 180/120 or higher, a serious condition known as a malignant hypertension or hypertension crisis may occur. This can lead to stroke, kidney damage, heart attacks, or loss of consciousness. If you measure your blood pressure and it is this high, rest a few minutes and measure again. If it remains high, call 911.
Many things can cause your blood pressure to be too low, ranging from normal pregnancy-induced changes to dangerous underlying conditions, like heart problems or hormone disturbances. In some instances, what causes low blood pressure could be a simple case of dehydration brought on by vomiting, intense exercise, or the overuse of diuretics. In fact, even mild dehydration can trigger symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, or other symptoms of low blood pressure.
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]
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.
Recent updates to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension for most people. High blood pressure is now generally defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number (previously it was 140/90). However, there are important considerations for older adults in deciding whether to start treatment for high blood pressure, including other health conditions and overall fitness. If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your doctor will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.

Blood pressure monitors for use at home can be bought at drug stores, department stores, and other places. Again, these monitors may not always give you a correct reading. You should always compare your machine’s reading with a reading from your doctor’s machine to make sure they are the same. Remember that any measurement above normal should prompt a visit to the doctor, who can then talk with you about the best course of action.
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:

Postural hypotension is considered to be a failure of a person's cardiovascular system or nervous system to react appropriately to sudden changes. Usually, when a person stands up, some of their blood pools in their lower extremities. If this remains uncorrected, it would cause the person's blood pressure to fall or decrease. A person's body usually compensates by sending messages to their heart to beat faster and to their blood vessels to constrict, offsetting the drop in blood pressure. If this does not happen, or does not happen quickly enough, postural hypotension is the result.


Low blood pressure due to nervous system damage (multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension). Also called Shy-Drager syndrome, this rare disorder causes progressive damage to the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and digestion. It's associated with having very high blood pressure while lying down.

In Europe hypertension occurs in about 30-45% of people as of 2013.[12] In 1995 it was estimated that 43 million people (24% of the population) in the United States had hypertension or were taking antihypertensive medication.[141] By 2004 this had increased to 29%[142][143] and further to 32% (76 million US adults) by 2017.[7] In 2017, with the change in definitions for hypertension, 46% of people in the United States are affected.[7] African-American adults in the United States have among the highest rates of hypertension in the world at 44%.[144] It is also more common in Filipino Americans and less common in US whites and Mexican Americans.[6][145] Differences in hypertension rates are multifactorial and under study.[146]


Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Blood pressure is expressed by two measurements, the systolic and diastolic pressures, which are the maximum and minimum pressures, respectively.[1] For most adults, normal blood pressure at rest is within the range of 100–130 millimeters mercury (mmHg) systolic and 60–80 mmHg diastolic.[7][12] For most adults, high blood pressure is present if the resting blood pressure is persistently at or above 130/80 or 140/90 mmHg.[5][7] Different numbers apply to children.[13] Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring over a 24-hour period appears more accurate than office-based blood pressure measurement.[5][10]


Low blood pressure is diagnosed by a doctor when they check your blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer. For people who experience low blood pressure without other symptoms, it may only require regular monitoring by a doctor during routine exams, and medical treatment may not be necessary. If certain signs suggest an underlying condition, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose a cause for your hypotension:
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.

James, P.A., Oparil, S., Carter, B.L., Cushman, W.C., Dennison-Himmelfarb, C., Handler, J., & Ortiz, E. (2013, December 18). 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: Report from the panel members appointed to the eighth joint national committee. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497


James, P.A., Oparil, S., Carter, B.L., Cushman, W.C., Dennison-Himmelfarb, C., Handler, J., & Ortiz, E. (2013, December 18). 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: Report from the panel members appointed to the eighth joint national committee. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497

With age, comes an increased risk for systolic hypertension which can be aggravated by severe atherosclerosis. According to one study, the diuretic chlorthalidone (Hygroton) had significant benefit in elderly patients with systolic hypertension. Along with a diuretic, some calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers may also be good choices. However, beta blockers may not be as effective for hypertension in those over 60; though they may be good choices if co-existing heart disease is present. It also may be preferable in elderly patients to give two high blood pressure medications at a low dose versus one at a higher dose. 

John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
6. Cultivate stress management. You don’t need a meta-analysis of cohort studies to prove stress can raise blood pressure, but they exist. You can’t eliminate stress, but you can minimize its impact. Research shows yoga and meditation create effective strategies to manage stress and blood pressure. If those aren’t your thing, consider other stress-relieving tactics including deep breathing or practicing mindfulness.
Genetics plays a role in hypertension, and much of essential hypertension could ultimately turn out to be genetic in origin. Genes are believed to have approximately 30 percent to 50 percent impact on blood pressure. Specific genes have not been identified as responsible for hypertension, however. This may be due to the fact that there are many genes that interact together to influence blood pressure, with some of these genetic variants being more common than others.
The cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated with an air pump to a pressure that blocks the flow of blood in the main artery that travels through the arm. The arm is held at the side of the body at the level of the heart, and the pressure of the cuff is gradually released. As the pressure decreases, a health practitioner listens with a stethoscope over the artery at the front of the elbow or an electronic machine senses the pulsation. The pressure at which the practitioner (or machine) first hears a pulsation from the artery is the systolic pressure (the top number). As the cuff pressure decreases further, the pressure at which the pulsation finally stops is the diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
On physical examination, hypertension may be associated with the presence of changes in the optic fundus seen by ophthalmoscopy.[22] The severity of the changes typical of hypertensive retinopathy is graded from I to IV; grades I and II may be difficult to differentiate.[22] The severity of the retinopathy correlates roughly with the duration or the severity of the hypertension.[20]
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