We stimulate high-impact research. Our Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) Program includes participants with high blood pressure, which may help us understand how genes contribute to differences in disease severity and how patients respond to treatment. The NHLBI Strategic Vision highlights ways we may support research over the next decade, including new efforts for studying high blood pressure.

Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
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.
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.
Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
For a manual monitor, you have to hold the pressure gauge in one hand (your weaker hand) and the bulb in the other hand. Inflate the cuff until it reads about 30 points above your normal systolic pressure. At this point, you should not hear your pulse in the stethoscope. When you hear the first heart beat, this is the systolic pressure. As you deflate the cuff, keep listening for a heart beat. When you can no longer hear it, that is your diastolic pressure.
^ Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Dec 2011). "Expert panel on integrated guidelines for cardiovascular health and risk reduction in children and adolescents: summary report". Pediatrics. 128 Suppl 5: S213–56. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2107C. PMC 4536582. PMID 22084329.
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.
A recent study compared diuretics with other types of blood pressure-lowering medications and found the diuretics were just as effective as the newer drugs in preventing heart attack or death due to heart disease. The new guidelines say these inexpensive drugs should be used as first-line treatment for most people who have high blood pressure without other risk factors such as heart failure, history of heart attack, diabetes, or kidney disease.
Peter, I’ve been using a blood pressure meter for nearly 30 years, so my response is based on my personal experience and information I’ve acquired over the years. First, I suggest that you take your meter to the doctor and have them check several readings of your meter against theirs. For example, If your meter consistently shows it’s 10 points lower than the doctor’s, just delete the 10 points from your meter reading (have them check both numbers so you can adjust both as necessary). Also, it’s common that many doctor’s offices take your blood pressure incorrectly (you should actually sit still for 5 minutes, with your feet on the floor and the cuff at the same level as your heart) . Some of us have”white coat” hypertension, so you may always be elevated at the doctor’s office. If you are a large man, you (and your doctor’s office) may need to use a larger cuff as the wrong size of cuff can affect your reading. Also, I spoke with customer service at one of the companies that makes many of the home & professional meters, and she told me that the automated machines are not very accurate if you have kidney disease or heart failure (I have both). Ask the doctor’s staff to always use the manual system and it will be more accurate than those noisy automatic ones.

The veins can expand and narrow. When veins expand, more blood can be stored in the veins and less blood returns to the heart for pumping into the arteries. As a result, the heart pumps less blood, and blood pressure is lower. On the other hand, when veins narrow, less blood is stored in the veins, more blood returns to the heart for pumping into the arteries, and blood pressure is higher.
You will work with your provider to come up with a treatment plan. It may include only the lifestyle changes. These changes, such as heart-healthy eating and exercise, can be very effective. But sometimes the changes do not control or lower your high blood pressure. Then you may need to take medicine. There are different types of blood pressure medicines. Some people need to take more than one type.
If your blood pressure readings are consistently high, you and your doctor will probably discuss treatment strategies. Treatment for high blood pressure often begins with lifestyle changes such as a weight loss and exercise program as well as a low sodium diet. In fact, the AHA recommends adopting these strategies as a means of preventing the development of high blood pressure and heart disease. If these strategies are not successful in lowering your blood pressure, medications may be recommended.

Low blood pressure is not always a sign of a problem. But if you have symptoms of low blood pressure, your doctor can diagnose the condition and uncover the cause. Symptoms of dizziness and lightheadedness when you stand up from sitting or lying down -- with a decrease in your blood pressure -- may indicate a condition called postural hypotension. A wide range of underlying conditions may also cause your symptoms. It's important to identify the cause of low blood pressure so appropriate treatment can be given.
Drinking too much alcohol is a risk factor for high blood pressure. The American Heart Association guidelines recommend the consumption of no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. One drink is defined as one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. Adults who consume more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increase their blood pressure. However, binge drinking can lead to long-term increased blood pressure.
For a normal reading, your blood pressure needs to show a top number (systolic pressure) that’s between 90 and less than 120 and a bottom number (diastolic pressure) that’s between 60 and less than 80. The American Heart Association (AHA) considers blood pressure to be within the normal range when both your systolic and diastolic numbers are in these ranges. 

Blood pressure is assessed using two parameters -- the systolic and diastolic pressures -- which measure, respectively, the maximum pressure exerted in the arteries as the heart contracts, and the minimum pressure in those vessels between cardiac contractions. In adults, blood pressure is considered normal if the top number (systolic pressure) is between 90 and 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) is between 60 and 80.
Keeping track of your blood pressure is important. Your doctor can help you learn how to check your blood pressure at home. Each time you check your own blood pressure, record your numbers and the date. Send or take the log of your blood pressure readings with you for appointments with your doctor. Return to Screening for reminders on how to prepare for blood pressure testing.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University have uncovered unusual activity between neurons controlling breathing and blood pressure during the development of essential hypertension. Essential hypertension, which is high blood pressure with no known cause, affects 30% of the global population and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Medicines are available if these changes do not help control your blood pressure within 3 to 6 months. Diuretics help rid your body of water and sodium. ACE inhibitors block the enzyme that raises your blood pressure. Other types of medicines— beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and other vasodilators—work in different ways, but their overall effect is to help relax and widen your blood vessels and reduce the pressure inside the vessel. [See also the free government publication “Medicines to Help You: High Blood Pressure” (PDF) from the US Food and Drug Administration.]

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.
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.

About This Image: Person receiving a blood pressure test. Medical research shows that as we age blood pressure rises slightly to accommodate an increased demand of oxygen and nutrients. It is completely natural for the first number (systolic) to be 100 plus our age. A recent study by a group of UCLA researchers came very close to corroborating Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure of 100 plus your age for men, subtracting 10 for women, and this is after this rule had been in use for five or more decades. Are we now being taught that Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure is wrong merely for drug company profit?
In short, everyone. The motivation behind the change was to make people healthier. With more sensitive guidelines, we are able to get in control of our blood pressure sooner and improve heart health before reaching levels that could cause more serious health problems. For some, the changing guidelines may result in antihypertensive (blood pressure lowering) medication, along with lifestyle management, but that will not be the case for everyone.
When blood pressure is measured, there are two numbers for each reading: for example, "120 over 80" is written as 120/80. This is because each heartbeat sends a pressure wave through the bloodstream. The higher number (systolic blood pressure) is the peak of the wave, when your heart contracts (the loud "thump" when you listen to your heartbeat). The lower number (diastolic blood pressure) is the lower "dip" or trough of the wave, when your heart relaxes.
Strong Heart Study. Since 1988, the NHLBI has supported the Strong Heart Study (SHS), the largest epidemiologic study of American Indians ever conducted. The SHS aims to estimate the impact of heart and blood vessel diseases and to assess how common and significant standard risk factors are in this community. Thirteen tribes and communities in four states participate in the study. Visit Strong Heart Study for more information.
NHLBI-funded Research Supports Development of Guidelines for High Blood Pressure Management. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) found that treating to a lower systolic blood pressure target—less than 120 mm Hg—reduced complications from high blood pressure and saved lives. SPRINT results informed recent high blood pressure clinical guidelines that aim to improve treatment for millions of people. SPRINT Memory and Cognition in Decreased Hypertension (SPRINT-MIND) is examining whether treating to the lower blood pressure target can reduce the rate of dementia and slow cognitive decline in the SPRINT participants.

Your blood pressure is considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other cardiovascular risk factors.
Sodium is a key part of how the body controls blood pressure levels. The kidneys help balance fluid and sodium levels in the body. They use sodium and potassium to remove excess fluid from the blood. The body gets rid of this excess fluid as urine. When sodium levels in the blood are high, blood vessels retain more fluid. This increases blood pressure against the blood vessel walls.
There are even more medication types that can lower blood pressure. Some of these are alpha blockers, vasodilators, and central alpha agonists. Your doctor may prescribe these medications if other medications have been ineffective or if you have another condition along with hypertension. Side effects can include fast pulse, palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea, or headaches. 

Systolic BP lower than 90 mm Hg or diastolic BP lower than 60 mm Hg is considered low blood pressure or hypotension. Unlike hypertension, hypotension is more likely to be due to a primary cause (dehydration, heart disease, drugs, endocrine disease, etc.) and thus therapy is often aimed at treating the primary cause. Borderline BP with no obvious cause can be treated with increased salt and water intake, regular mild exercises, cutting down on alcohol, etc.). Drug therapy can be used if such hypotension is not amenable to these measures.
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.
The veins can expand and narrow. When veins expand, more blood can be stored in the veins and less blood returns to the heart for pumping into the arteries. As a result, the heart pumps less blood, and blood pressure is lower. On the other hand, when veins narrow, less blood is stored in the veins, more blood returns to the heart for pumping into the arteries, and blood pressure is higher.
About This Image: Person receiving a blood pressure test. Medical research shows that as we age blood pressure rises slightly to accommodate an increased demand of oxygen and nutrients. It is completely natural for the first number (systolic) to be 100 plus our age. A recent study by a group of UCLA researchers came very close to corroborating Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure of 100 plus your age for men, subtracting 10 for women, and this is after this rule had been in use for five or more decades. Are we now being taught that Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure is wrong merely for drug company profit?
A hypertensive emergency, unlike the similar sounding hypertensive urgency, is characterized by serious, life-threatening complications. A hypertensive emergency means that the blood pressure is >180 mm Hg or the diastolic pressure is >120 mm Hg, and that end-organ damage is occurring. Signs and symptoms can include shortness of breath, anxiety, chest pain, irregular heart rate, confusion, or fainting. 
Unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to a myriad of serious health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of heart disease and kidney disease. It is extremely dangerous during pregnancy because it contributes to devastating and even deadly problems for moms and babies. Other impacts of hypertension include vision problems and sexual dysfunction.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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.
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.
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.
For older people, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension, which is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most common form of high blood pressure in older people and can lead to serious health problems (stroke, heart disease, eye problems, and kidney failure) in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, lightheadedness upon standing too fast, and falls. Isolated systolic hypertension is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure (130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number) but may require more than one type of blood pressure medication. If your doctor determines that your systolic pressure is above a normal level for your age, ask how you can lower it.
When a blood pressure reading is taken, the higher number represents the systolic pressure and the lower number represents the diastolic pressure. For example: 120/80 (120 over 80) in an adult means that the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80. As kids grow, their blood pressure increases from a systolic pressure of about 70–90 (as babies) to adult values (when they're teens).
Postural hypotension is considered a failure of the cardiovascular system or nervous system to react appropriately to sudden changes. Normally, when you stand up, some blood pools in your lower extremities. Uncorrected, this would cause your blood pressure to fall. But your body normally compensates by sending messages to your heart to beat faster and to your blood vessels to constrict. This offsets the drop in blood pressure. If this does not happen, or happens too slowly, postural hypotension results and can lead to fainting.
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.

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.
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