The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.


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:
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.
Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition of the second half of pregnancy and following delivery characterised by increased blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine.[23] It occurs in about 5% of pregnancies and is responsible for approximately 16% of all maternal deaths globally.[23] Pre-eclampsia also doubles the risk of death of the baby around the time of birth.[23] Usually there are no symptoms in pre-eclampsia and it is detected by routine screening. When symptoms of pre-eclampsia occur the most common are headache, visual disturbance (often "flashing lights"), vomiting, pain over the stomach, and swelling. Pre-eclampsia can occasionally progress to a life-threatening condition called eclampsia, which is a hypertensive emergency and has several serious complications including vision loss, brain swelling, seizures, kidney failure, pulmonary edema, and disseminated intravascular coagulation (a blood clotting disorder).[23][31]
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]
It has been shown that meditation and other relaxation techniques can help lower blood pressure. Yoga, tai chi, and breathing exercises can also help reduce blood pressure. It's best when these are combined with changes in diet and exercise. Tell your doctor if you are taking any herbal remedies, since some of these preparations can actually raise blood pressure or interact with your blood pressure medications. The following are supplements that may lower blood pressure:

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.
Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. New guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) published in November of 2017 consider blood pressure elevated between 120/80 and 129/80. High blood pressure or hypertension is now classified as stage 1 if your systolic reading falls between 130 and 139 or your diastolic reading is between 80 and 89. A measure of 140/90 or higher is now considered stage 2 hypertension. A hypertensive crisis is defined as a systolic rate over 180 or a diastolic rate above 120. An elevated blood pressure means that the heart must work harder to pump blood. High blood pressure can also damage the walls of the arteries. Over time, hypertension increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. It is estimated that one in three adults in America are affected by hypertension.
Diuretics can lead to an increase in potassium loss, known as hypokalemia, which, in turn can affect muscular function -- including the muscles of the heart. There is also an increased risk for gout with diuretics -- as well as the possibility of weakness, thirst, dehydration, and increased urination. Changes in blood sugar levels are also possible. Skin reactions, some severe, are possible with thiazide diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide). Potassium-sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone (Aldactone) may cause breast enlargement in males.
^ Qaseem, A; Wilt, TJ; Rich, R; Humphrey, LL; Frost, J; Forciea, MA; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians and the Commission on Health of the Public and Science of the American Academy of Family, Physicians. (21 March 2017). "Pharmacologic Treatment of Hypertension in Adults Aged 60 Years or Older to Higher Versus Lower Blood Pressure Targets: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians". Annals of Internal Medicine. 166 (6): 430–437. doi:10.7326/m16-1785. PMID 28135725.
The guidelines, from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), now define high blood pressure as 130 mm Hg or higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or 80 mm Hg or higher for the diastolic blood pressure measurement. (Systolic is the top number, and diastolic is the bottom number, in a blood pressure reading.) Previously, high blood pressure was defined as 140 mm Hg or higher for the systolic measurement and 90 or higher for the diastolic measurement.

^ Jump up to: a b Kato, Norihiro; Loh, Marie; Takeuchi, Fumihiko; Verweij, Niek; Wang, Xu; Zhang, Weihua; Kelly, Tanika N.; Saleheen, Danish; Lehne, Benjamin (2015-11-01). "Trans-ancestry genome-wide association study identifies 12 genetic loci influencing blood pressure and implicates a role for DNA methylation". Nature Genetics. 47 (11): 1282–93. doi:10.1038/ng.3405. ISSN 1546-1718. PMC 4719169. PMID 26390057.
Postural hypotension occurs most frequently in people who are taking drugs to control high blood pressure (hypertension). It can also be related to pregnancy, strong emotions, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), or diabetes. The elderly are particularly affected, especially those who have high blood pressure or autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
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.
ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors are another class of antihypertensive drugs. They reduce the body's levels of angiotensin II, a substance that narrows blood vessels. This means that arteries are more open (dilated) and the blood pressure is lower. ACE inhibitors can be used alone, or with other medications such as diuretics. Side effects of ACE inhibitors can include skin rash, dry cough, dizziness, and elevated potassium levels. Women who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or breastfeeding should not take ACE inhibitors.
Blood pressure refers to the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels and constitutes one of the principal vital signs. The pressure of the circulating blood decreases as blood moves through arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and veins; the term blood pressure generally refers to arterial pressure, i.e., the pressure in the larger arteries, arteries being the blood vessels which take blood away from the heart.
^ Jump up to: a b Kato, Norihiro; Loh, Marie; Takeuchi, Fumihiko; Verweij, Niek; Wang, Xu; Zhang, Weihua; Kelly, Tanika N.; Saleheen, Danish; Lehne, Benjamin (2015-11-01). "Trans-ancestry genome-wide association study identifies 12 genetic loci influencing blood pressure and implicates a role for DNA methylation". Nature Genetics. 47 (11): 1282–93. doi:10.1038/ng.3405. ISSN 1546-1718. PMC 4719169. PMID 26390057.
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.]

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]


There is no treatment available for the causes of portal hypertension. However, treatment can prevent or manage the complications. Diet, medication (nonselective beta-blockers), endoscopic therapy, surgery, and radiology procedures can all help in treating or preventing symptoms of portal hypertension. If these treatments are unsuccessful in treating symptoms, transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) or distal splenorenal shunt (DSRA) are two procedures that may reduce pressure in the portal veins. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help to prevent portal hypertension.
^ Mente, Andrew; O'Donnell, Martin; Rangarajan, Sumathy; Dagenais, Gilles; Lear, Scott; McQueen, Matthew; Diaz, Rafael; Avezum, Alvaro; Lopez-Jaramillo, Patricio; Lanas, Fernando; Li, Wei; Lu, Yin; Yi, Sun; Rensheng, Lei; Iqbal, Romaina; Mony, Prem; Yusuf, Rita; Yusoff, Khalid; Szuba, Andrzej; Oguz, Aytekin; Rosengren, Annika; Bahonar, Ahmad; Yusufali, Afzalhussein; Schutte, Aletta Elisabeth; Chifamba, Jephat; Mann, Johannes F E; Anand, Sonia S; Teo, Koon; Yusuf, S (July 2016). "Associations of urinary sodium excretion with cardiovascular events in individuals with and without hypertension: a pooled analysis of data from four studies". The Lancet. 388 (10043): 465–75. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30467-6. PMID 27216139.

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]


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.

In people aged 18 years or older hypertension is defined as either a systolic or a diastolic blood pressure measurement consistently higher than an accepted normal value (this is above 129 or 139 mmHg systolic, 89 mmHg diastolic depending on the guideline).[5][7] Other thresholds are used (135 mmHg systolic or 85 mmHg diastolic) if measurements are derived from 24-hour ambulatory or home monitoring.[79] Recent international hypertension guidelines have also created categories below the hypertensive range to indicate a continuum of risk with higher blood pressures in the normal range. The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC7) published in 2003[27] uses the term prehypertension for blood pressure in the range 120–139 mmHg systolic or 80–89 mmHg diastolic, while European Society of Hypertension Guidelines (2007)[86] and British Hypertension Society (BHS) IV (2004)[87] use optimal, normal and high normal categories to subdivide pressures below 140 mmHg systolic and 90 mmHg diastolic. Hypertension is also sub-classified: JNC7 distinguishes hypertension stage I, hypertension stage II, and isolated systolic hypertension. Isolated systolic hypertension refers to elevated systolic pressure with normal diastolic pressure and is common in the elderly.[27] The ESH-ESC Guidelines (2007)[86] and BHS IV (2004)[87] additionally define a third stage (stage III hypertension) for people with systolic blood pressure exceeding 179 mmHg or a diastolic pressure over 109 mmHg. Hypertension is classified as "resistant" if medications do not reduce blood pressure to normal levels.[27] In November 2017, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology published a joint guideline which updates the recommendations of the JNC7 report.[88]


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.
Physical examination may include listening to the heart and lungs, feeling for pulse in the wrist and ankles, and feeling and listening to the abdomen looking for signs of an enlarged aorta. The examiner may also listen in the neck for carotid bruits (sounds made by a narrowed artery in the neck) and in the abdomen for bruits made by an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
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.
^ Jump up to: a b c Members, Authors/Task Force; Mancia, Giuseppe; Fagard, Robert; Narkiewicz, Krzysztof; Redon, Josep; Zanchetti, Alberto; Böhm, Michael; Christiaens, Thierry; Cifkova, Renata (13 June 2013). "2013 ESH/ESC Guidelines for the management of arterial hypertension". European Heart Journal. 34 (28): 2159–219. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht151. hdl:1854/LU-4127523. ISSN 0195-668X. PMID 23771844. Archived from the original on 27 January 2015.
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.
Many kids and teens with high blood pressure have an unhealthy lifestyle — a bad diet, excess weight, stress, and too little physical activity. So the health care provider might recommend weight loss, exercise, reduced screen time (time spent watching TV, or using a computer or mobile devices), dietary changes, and even relaxation techniques. Teens with hypertension should not smoke because it can make the long-term associated heart problems worse.
Anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock) is a potentially fatal allergic reaction to medications such as penicillin, intravenous iodine used in some X-ray studies, foods such as peanuts, or bee stings (insect stings). In addition to a severe drop in blood pressure, individuals may also experience hives and wheezing due to constriction of the airways, and a swollen throat, which causes difficulty breathing. The shock is caused by enlargement of blood-containing blood vessels and escape of water from the blood into the tissues.
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.

Hypertension (HTN or HT), also known as high blood pressure (HBP), is a long-term medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated.[10] High blood pressure typically does not cause symptoms.[1] Long-term high blood pressure, however, is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss, chronic kidney disease, and dementia.[2][3][4][11]

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.[125][126][127] Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.[128]
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