Factors that increase your blood pressure can cause elevated levels. Medications such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs may cause a temporary rise in blood pressure. The buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries (atherosclerosis) can also lead to prehypertension. Other conditions that may lead to prehypertension include the following:
A slow heart rate (bradycardia) can decrease the amount of blood pumped by the heart. The resting heart rate for a healthy adult is between 60 and 100 beats/minute. Bradycardia (resting heart rates slower than 60 beats/minute) does not always cause low blood pressure. In fact, some highly trained athletes can have resting heart rates in the 40s and 50s (beats per minute) without any symptoms. The slow heart rates are offset by more forceful contractions of the heart that pump more blood than in non-athletes. However, in many patients bradycardia can lead to low blood pressure, lightheadedness, dizziness, and even fainting.
Heart attack. Signs of heart attack include mild or severe chest pain or discomfort in the center of the chest or upper abdomen that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, heartburn, or indigestion. There may also be pain down the left arm. Women may also have chest pain and pain down the left arm, but they are more likely to have less typical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, unusual tiredness, and pain in the back, shoulders, or jaw. Read more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
Everyone age 3 or older should have their blood pressure checked by a healthcare provider at least once a year. Your doctor will use a blood pressure test to see if you have consistently high blood pressure readings. Even small increases in systolic blood pressure can weaken and damage your blood vessels. Your doctor will recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes to help control your blood pressure and prevent you from developing high blood pressure.
In hypertensive emergency, there is evidence of direct damage to one or more organs.[27][28] The most affected organs include the brain, kidney, heart and lungs, producing symptoms which may include confusion, drowsiness, chest pain and breathlessness.[26] In hypertensive emergency, the blood pressure must be reduced more rapidly to stop ongoing organ damage,[26] however, there is a lack of randomized controlled trial evidence for this approach.[28]
Hypertension is diagnosed on the basis of a persistently high resting blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends at least three resting measurements on at least two separate health care visits.[74] The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends ambulatory blood pressure monitoring to confirm the diagnosis of hypertension if a clinic blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher.[75]
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]
Stage 1 and Stage 2 hypertensions require therapy with anti-hypertensive drugs to bring down the blood pressure. Lifestyle modifications are also necessary, but often it is not sufficient for satisfactory control of blood pressure. Hypertension is often asymptomatic in the early course of disease. Symptoms like headache, lightheadedness, palpitations and easy fatigability may occur and chances of them being present increases with increasing blood pressure.
During relaxation of the heart (diastole), the left ventricle of the heart fills with blood returning from the lungs. The left ventricle then contracts and pumps blood into the arteries (systole). The blood pressure in the arteries during contraction of the ventricle (systolic pressure) is higher because blood is being actively ejected into the arteries. It is lower during relaxation of the ventricle (diastolic pressure) when no blood is being ejected into the arteries. The pulse we feel when we place our fingers over an artery is caused by the contraction of the left ventricle and the ejection of blood.
A person consistently showing blood pressure higher than 140/90 over several readings is considered to have hypertension. Doctors advise these people to make effective lifestyle changes to help lower their blood pressure, such as maintaining a healthy weight, including exercise in their daily routine, limiting salt and alcohol intake, and quitting smoking. The doctors will also recommend medication for hypertension depending on how much higher the BP is as compared to the normal blood pressure range and any other health problems that the patient faces.
Some women with normal blood pressure develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. As part of your regular prenatal care, your doctor will measure your blood pressure at each visit. If you develop high blood pressure, your doctor will closely monitor you and your baby and provide special care to lower the chance of complications. With such care, most women and babies have good outcomes.
Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.
"Having a healthy lifestyle really makes a difference in your life because you can avoid high blood pressure," said Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, an internist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. "If you do have high blood pressure, make sure take your medication. You may not necessarily have symptoms until your blood pressure gets really high."

The primary symptoms of malignant hypertension is a blood pressure of 180/120 or higher and signs of organ damage. Other symptoms of malignant hypertension include bleeding and swelling of blood vessels in the retina, anxiety, nosebleeds, severe headache, and shortness of breath. Malignant hypertension may cause brain swelling, but this symptom is very rare.
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There was a time when the high blood pressure medication list was very short indeed. In the 1950s, reserpine was one of the few products on the market to treat hypertension. It is rarely used due to its numerous side effects and drug interactions. The peripheral adrenergic inhibitors work in the brain to block signals that tell blood vessels to constrict. They are mostly used when other high blood pressure medications fail to solve the problem. Guanadrel (Hylorel), guanethidine monosulfate (Ismelin), and reserpine (Serpasil) are peripheral adrenergic inhibitors.
In most people with established essential hypertension, increased resistance to blood flow (total peripheral resistance) accounts for the high pressure while cardiac output remains normal.[52] There is evidence that some younger people with prehypertension or 'borderline hypertension' have high cardiac output, an elevated heart rate and normal peripheral resistance, termed hyperkinetic borderline hypertension.[53] These individuals develop the typical features of established essential hypertension in later life as their cardiac output falls and peripheral resistance rises with age.[53] Whether this pattern is typical of all people who ultimately develop hypertension is disputed.[54] The increased peripheral resistance in established hypertension is mainly attributable to structural narrowing of small arteries and arterioles,[55] although a reduction in the number or density of capillaries may also contribute.[56]
Secondary hypertension results from an identifiable cause. Kidney disease is the most common secondary cause of hypertension.[23] Hypertension can also be caused by endocrine conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, acromegaly, Conn's syndrome or hyperaldosteronism, renal artery stenosis (from atherosclerosis or fibromuscular dysplasia), hyperparathyroidism, and pheochromocytoma.[23][47] Other causes of secondary hypertension include obesity, sleep apnea, pregnancy, coarctation of the aorta, excessive eating of liquorice, excessive drinking of alcohol, and certain prescription medicines, herbal remedies, and illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.[23][48] Arsenic exposure through drinking water has been shown to correlate with elevated blood pressure.[49][50]
In the 19th and 20th centuries, before effective pharmacological treatment for hypertension became possible, three treatment modalities were used, all with numerous side-effects: strict sodium restriction (for example the rice diet[152]), sympathectomy (surgical ablation of parts of the sympathetic nervous system), and pyrogen therapy (injection of substances that caused a fever, indirectly reducing blood pressure).[152][158]
Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is known as "the silent killer." More than 80 million Americans (33%) have high blood pressure, and as many as 16 million of them do not even know they have the condition. If left untreated, high blood pressure greatly increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Hypertension is projected to increase about 8 percent between 2013 and 2030.

Much is being made of the fact that the new definitions of high blood pressure will mean roughly half of all US citizens will be considered to have high blood pressure, but when you really look at the numbers, as cardiologists already have, not that many more people will actually be advised to take medications. Although the public has good reason to be suspicious of “big pharma,” that’s not what this is about.

Your doctor may suggest that you check your blood pressure at home. The easiest way to do this is to use a digital blood pressure monitor. You can get a monitor from your local drug store, hospital, clinic or online. Your doctor can help you find a monitor that is right for you and show you how to use it. Many pharmacies and grocery stores also have in-store monitors that you can use for free.

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.


Normal systolic blood pressure is 90 to 119 mm of Hg and normal diastolic blood pressure is 60 to 79 mm Hg. Even in this range, the lower blood pressure is better. So even if one has a blood pressure of 118/78 mm Hg, adopting a healthier lifestyle (quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, reducing weight if obese, exercises, reduced salt intake, healthier diet, etc.) is a good choice. However, self-medications to reduce the blood pressure further should never be attempted.
Effective lifestyle modification may lower blood pressure as much as an individual antihypertensive medication. Combinations of two or more lifestyle modifications can achieve even better results.[87] There is considerable evidence that reducing dietary salt intake lowers blood pressure, but whether this translates into a reduction in mortality and cardiovascular disease remains uncertain.[96] Estimated sodium intake ≥6g/day and <3g/day are both associated with high risk of death or major cardiovascular disease, but the association between high sodium intake and adverse outcomes is only observed in people with hypertension.[97] Consequently, in the absence of results from randomized controlled trials, the wisdom of reducing levels of dietary salt intake below 3g/day has been questioned.[96]

Important complications of uncontrolled or poorly treated high blood pressure are due to chronic damage that occurs to different organs in the body and include heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, peripheral artery disease, and aneurysms (weakening of the walls of an artery, leading to a sac formation or ballooning of the artery wall). Aneurysms can be found in the brain, along the route of the aorta (the large artery that leaves the heart), and other arteries in the abdomen and extremities.
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.
For an accurate diagnosis of hypertension to be made, it is essential for proper blood pressure measurement technique to be used.[76] Improper measurement of blood pressure is common and can change the blood pressure reading by up to 10 mmHg, which can lead to misdiagnosis and misclassification of hypertension.[76] Correct blood pressure measurement technique involves several steps. Proper blood pressure measurement requires the person whose blood pressure is being measured to sit quietly for at least five minutes which is then followed by application of a properly fitted blood pressure cuff to a bare upper arm.[76] The person should be seated with their back supported, feet flat on the floor, and with their legs uncrossed.[76] The person whose blood pressure is being measured should avoid talking or moving during this process.[76] The arm being measured should be supported on a flat surface at the level of the heart.[76] Blood pressure measurement should be done in a quiet room so the medical professional checking the blood pressure can hear the Korotkoff sounds while listening to the brachial artery with a stethoscope for accurate blood pressure measurements.[76][77] The blood pressure cuff should be deflated slowly (2-3 mmHg per second) while listening for the Korotkoff sounds.[77] The bladder should be emptied before a person's blood pressure is measured since this can increase blood pressure by up to 15/10 mmHg.[76] Multiple blood pressure readings (at least two) spaced 1–2 minutes apart should be obtained to ensure accuracy.[77] Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring over 12 to 24 hours is the most accurate method to confirm the diagnosis.[78]
One especially important cause of low blood pressure is orthostatic hypotension, which is sometimes referred to as postural hypotension. This happens when blood pressure drops rapidly during changes in body position—usually when changing from sitting to standing—inducing classic signs that the blood pressure is too low, like dizziness, blurry vision, and fainting.
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f James, PA.; Oparil, S.; Carter, BL.; Cushman, WC.; Dennison-Himmelfarb, C.; Handler, J.; Lackland, DT.; Lefevre, ML.; et al. (Dec 2013). "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 (JNC 8)". JAMA. 311 (5): 507–20. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.284427. PMID 24352797.
During relaxation of the heart (diastole), the left ventricle of the heart fills with blood returning from the lungs. The left ventricle then contracts and pumps blood into the arteries (systole). The blood pressure in the arteries during contraction of the ventricle (systolic pressure) is higher because blood is being actively ejected into the arteries. It is lower during relaxation of the ventricle (diastolic pressure) when no blood is being ejected into the arteries. The pulse we feel when we place our fingers over an artery is caused by the contraction of the left ventricle and the ejection of blood.
Your doctor may suggest that you check your blood pressure at home. The easiest way to do this is to use a digital blood pressure monitor. You can get a monitor from your local drug store, hospital, clinic or online. Your doctor can help you find a monitor that is right for you and show you how to use it. Many pharmacies and grocery stores also have in-store monitors that you can use for free.
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