What's to know about high blood pressure? High blood pressure or hypertension is often called the silent killer, having no symptoms in many cases. Find out here what causes hypertension, including health, genetic, and lifestyle risks, and signs to look out for. Also, read about how the drugs work, and everything you can do to avoid blood pressure problems. Read now
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). 

High blood pressure is a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels, or arteries, at higher than normal pressures. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, is when this force against the artery walls is too high. Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure if you have consistently high blood pressure readings.
Sodium, a chemical found in salt, raises blood pressure by promoting the retention of fluid by the body. This increases the workload on the heart. The American Heart Association recommends an upper daily limit for sodium consumption of 1,500 mg. Checking food labels and menus can help you calculate how much sodium you are consuming. Processed foods are particularly high in sodium and make up about 75% of our sodium intake. Among these, lunch meats and canned soups have some of the highest levels of dietary sodium.
When your heart contracts and squeezes blood out into your network of arteries, the pressure inside those blood vessels is at its highest. This is called systolic pressure and it’s the top number on your blood pressure reading. In between beats, the heart relaxes and the pressure drops. This is your diastolic blood pressure, and it’s the reading’s bottom number.

Low blood pressure is also known as hypotension. This is usually defined in an adult as a systolic recording of less than 90 mmHg, although it has been suggested that for elderly people, below 110 mmHg is a more appropriate definition. Blood pressure and heart rate are controlled by the autonomic nervous system (the nervous system that controls bodily functions that we do not have to think about).                                                                                                                                                                                                
If your systolic and diastolic blood pressure are in two different categories, doctors consider the number that is in the higher category. For example, if your blood pressure is 135/91, your systolic blood pressure is in the prehypertensive range and your diastolic blood pressure is in the range of Stage 1 hypertension. Your measurement or 135/91 would place you in the category of Stage 1 hypertension.
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]
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.
Hypertension is the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide.[149] It increases the risk of ischemic heart disease,[150] strokes,[23] peripheral vascular disease,[151] and other cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, aortic aneurysms, diffuse atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and pulmonary embolism.[11][23] Hypertension is also a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia.[23] Other complications include hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive nephropathy.[27]
Blood tests may be done to assess risk factors for heart disease and stroke as well as looking for complications of hypertension. These include complete blood count (CBC), electrolytes, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), and creatinine and GFR (glomerular filtration rate) to measure kidney function. A fasting lipid profile will measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. If appropriate, blood tests may be considered to look for an underlying cause of high blood pressure (secondary hypertension)including abnormal thyroid or adrenal gland function.
Vasovagal syncope can be treated with several types of drugs such as beta blockers, for example, propanolol (Inderal, Inderal LA) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). Fludrocortisone (Florinef) (a drug that prevents dehydration by causing the kidney(s) to retain water) also may be used. A pacemaker can also be helpful when a patient fails drug therapy.
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.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Without treatment, you can have a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, heart attack, enlarged heart, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease (such as poor circulation and pain in your legs), aneurysms, kidney disease, and broken blood vessels in your eyes. Treatment includes making changes recommended by your healthcare provider.

A single lower-than-normal reading is not cause for alarm, unless you are experiencing any other symptoms or problems. If you experience any dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. To help with your diagnosis, keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.


The information you share, including that which might otherwise be Protected Health Information, to this site is by design open to the public and is not a private, secure service. You should think carefully before disclosing any personal information in any public forum. What you have written may be seen, disclosed to, or collected by third parties and may be used by others in ways we are unable to control or predict, including to contact you or otherwise be used for unauthorized or unlawful purposes. As with any public forum on any site, this information may also appear in third-party search engines like Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc. Your use of this site is governed by Harvard University and its affiliates Terms of Use located at www.health.harvard.edu/privacy-policy and may be amended from time to time.
Headaches strike over 90% of adults each year. You may be able to wait out some and let them pass, but others may be a sign that your body is asking you to take action. There is a chance that your headache could be a symptom of high blood pressure. If there are no other causes of your headache, you should ask your healthcare provider about getting your blood pressure checked.
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]
This study is exploring whether use of losartan, a medicine commonly used to lower blood pressure, is effective at treating abnormal nighttime blood pressure in children and young adults who have sickle cell disease. To participate in this study, you or your child must be 5 to 25 years old and have high blood pressure and a certain type of sickle cell disease: hemoglobin SS or Sβ0 thalassemia. This study is located in Birmingham, Alabama.
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.
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.
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.
If your blood pressure is above the normal range for up to 5 readings (taken at different visits), your doctor will likely diagnose you with high blood pressure. Sometimes the doctor may diagnose you after a fewer number of readings, depending on how high above normal your blood pressure is and if you have other medical conditions. Blood pressure tends to be at its highest during exercise, physical work, or stress, and lowest during sleep. Everyone can have a temporary increase in blood pressure at one time or another, which is why it's important to take multiple readings.
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.
It wasn’t long ago (2013) that those over 60 were advised to aim for blood pressure below 150/90. Now, as a result of a single large trial, the numbers are being revised in a major way. But as Dr. Gilbert Welch has pointed out at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/opinion/blood-pressure-guidelines.html , there are problems with this study. First, about 8% of patients aiming for 140 systolic (or less) had “cardiovascular events,” whereas only 6% of those in the 120 systolic group did. This is only a 2 point reduction, but as a percentage it’s a 25% reduction. This is the misleading use of percentage change instead of actual change. Second, the participants were already at higher than average risk for cardiovascular problems, so it was a study of a selected group and not of the general population.
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.

Healthcare professionals use a stethoscope and a manual sphygmomanometer to measure your blood pressure. Typically they take the reading above your elbow. The sphygmomanometer has a bladder, cuff, bulb, and a gauge. When the bulb is pumped it inflates the bladder inside the cuff, which is wrapped around your arm. This inflation will stop the blood flow in your arteries. The stethoscope is used to listen for sound of the heartbeat, and no sound indicates that there is no flow. As the pressure is released from the bladder, you will hear the sound of the blood flowing again. That point becomes systolic reading. The diastolic reading is when you hear no sound again, which means that the blood flow is back to normal.


Heart block: Heart block occurs when the specialized tissues that transmit electrical current in the heart are damaged by heart attacks, degeneration from atherosclerosis, and medications. Heart block prevents some or all of the electrical signals from reaching parts of the heart, and this prevents the heart from contracting as well as it otherwise would.

It occurs more often in older people who are taking a lot of medication. However, it can cause symptoms in younger people. There may be underlying medical conditions such as joint hypermobility syndrome, diabetes, parkinson’s disease, addison’s disease or autonomic failure. Dehydration, hunger, low body weight and deconditioning (being out of shape/unfit) can reduce blood pressure.


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 (hypotension) is pressure so low it causes symptoms or signs due to the low flow of blood through the arteries and veins. When the flow of blood is too low to deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney, the organs do not function normally and may be temporarily or permanently damaged.

The guidelines also say that a patient's blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two to three readings on at least two different occasions. It's also reasonable for doctors to screen for "white-coat hypertension," which occurs when blood pressure is elevated in a medical setting but not in everyday life, the authors said. This can be done by having patients measure their blood pressure at home. 


Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 (systolic/diastolic). In healthy people, low blood pressure without any symptoms is not usually a concern and does not need to be treated. But low blood pressure can be a sign of an underlying problem -- especially in the elderly -- where it may cause inadequate blood flow to the heart, brain, and other vital organs.
^ Jump up to: a b Semlitsch, T; Jeitler, K; Berghold, A; Horvath, K; Posch, N; Poggenburg, S; Siebenhofer, A (2 March 2016). "Long-term effects of weight-reducing diets in people with hypertension". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 3: CD008274. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008274.pub3. PMID 26934541. Archived from the original on 23 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
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.
It occurs more often in older people who are taking a lot of medication. However, it can cause symptoms in younger people. There may be underlying medical conditions such as joint hypermobility syndrome, diabetes, parkinson’s disease, addison’s disease or autonomic failure. Dehydration, hunger, low body weight and deconditioning (being out of shape/unfit) can reduce blood pressure.
It's tough to get a reading on your average blood pressure if you only measure it at the doctor's office. Buy a home monitoring kit at your local pharmacy. Take two readings a day, morning and night, for a few days. Repeat these steps a few times a year, and share the results with your doctor. Better understanding of your blood pressure is the first step to preventing heart disease and stroke.

Hypertension results from a complex interaction of genes and environmental factors. Numerous common genetic variants with small effects on blood pressure have been identified[34] as well as some rare genetic variants with large effects on blood pressure.[35] Also, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified 35 genetic loci related to blood pressure; 12 of these genetic loci influencing blood pressure were newly found.[36] Sentinel SNP for each new genetic locus identified has shown an association with DNA methylation at multiple nearby CpG sites. These sentinel SNP are located within genes related to vascular smooth muscle and renal function. DNA methylation might affect in some way linking common genetic variation to multiple phenotypes even though mechanisms underlying these associations are not understood. Single variant test performed in this study for the 35 sentinel SNP (known and new) showed that genetic variants singly or in aggregate contribute to risk of clinical phenotypes related to high blood pressure.[36]
The World Health Organization has identified hypertension, or high blood pressure, as the leading cause of cardiovascular mortality.[162] The World Hypertension League (WHL), an umbrella organization of 85 national hypertension societies and leagues, recognized that more than 50% of the hypertensive population worldwide are unaware of their condition.[162] To address this problem, the WHL initiated a global awareness campaign on hypertension in 2005 and dedicated May 17 of each year as World Hypertension Day (WHD). Over the past three years, more national societies have been engaging in WHD and have been innovative in their activities to get the message to the public. In 2007, there was record participation from 47 member countries of the WHL. During the week of WHD, all these countries – in partnership with their local governments, professional societies, nongovernmental organizations and private industries – promoted hypertension awareness among the public through several media and public rallies. Using mass media such as Internet and television, the message reached more than 250 million people. As the momentum picks up year after year, the WHL is confident that almost all the estimated 1.5 billion people affected by elevated blood pressure can be reached.[163]
Exercise stress test: More commonly used for patients with borderline hypertension. This usually involves pedaling a stationary bicycle or walking on a treadmill. The stress test assesses how the body's cardiovascular system responds to increased physical activity. If the patient has hypertension this data is important to know before the exercise test starts. The test monitors the electrical activity of the heart, as well as the patient's blood pressure during exercise. An exercise stress test sometimes reveals problems that are not apparent when the body is resting. Imaging scans of the heart's blood supply might be done at the same time.

Caffeine can bring on the jitters, but there is no evidence that it can cause long-term hypertension. However, a caffeinated beverage might bring on a temporary rise in blood pressure. It is possible that caffeine could block a hormone that helps keep arteries widened, which causes blood pressure to rise. It is also possible that caffeine causes adrenal glands to release more adrenaline, causing blood pressure to increase. The exact reason why caffeine causes increased blood pressure is unknown.


Health issues may happen; however, when a person's blood pressure suddenly drops and their brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply. The condition may lead to lightheadedness or dizziness. A sudden drop in blood pressure usually happens in a person who has risen from a prone or sitting position to a standing one. When this occurs it is referred to as, 'orthostatic hypotension,' or, 'postural hypotension.' Another type of low blood pressure may happen when a person stands for extended periods of time; it is referred to as, 'neurally mediated hypotension.'
NHLBI Expert Panel on Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents. We have supported the development of guidelines based on up-to-date research to evaluate and manage risk of heart disease in children and adolescents, including high blood pressure. Visit Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents for more information.
×