What Is High Blood Pressure?

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure and don't know it. Many people with high blood pressure have no symptoms — which is why it is often called the “silent killer.”

High blood pressure is a condition in which the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is often too high. This puts stress on your heart by making it work harder. When untreated, it can damage your blood vessels, leading to a heart attack, stroke or other health concerns.

Additional Information

There are two numbers in a blood pressure reading:

  • Systolic: The top number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats
  • Diastolic: The bottom number measures the pressure when your heart is at rest

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Anything higher than that should be discussed with your provider.

Your health care provider will check your blood pressure at appointments. Your provider may also recommend that you regularly monitor your own blood pressure. To make sure you get a correct reading, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be still. Don’t smoke, drink caffeinated drinks or exercise within 30 minutes of checking your blood pressure. Try to be still at least five minutes before checking your blood pressure.
  • Sit correctly. Sit with your back straight and supported and place your feet flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed. Make sure the bottom of the blood pressure cuff is directly above the bend in your elbow and that your arm is supported on a flat surface with your upper arm at heart level.
  • Take multiple readings. Take two or three readings, one minute apart, and record the results.

Don’t take your measurements over clothes. This can cause inaccurate readings.

If you have high blood pressure, there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower it and keep it down:

  • Watch your weight. If you are overweight, losing just five to 10 pounds is enough to lower your blood pressure.
  • Eat a balanced diet. A diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains and low-fat dairy can lower your blood pressure by as much as 11 mm Hg.
  • Cut back on sodium. Processed foods can contain a lot of sodium. Be sure to check food labels and choose low-sodium alternatives when possible.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for about 30 minutes each day and choose something you enjoy. Whether it is high-intensity training, swimming or a quick walk, exercising on a regular basis can make a big difference.
  • Monitor caffeine intake. The effects of caffeine on blood pressure can vary between individuals. Check your blood pressure within 30 minutes of consuming caffeine to see if it is a factor for you.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking too much may not only raise blood pressure, it can prevent the effectiveness of blood pressure medication.
  • Don't smoke. Besides increasing your heart rate, the chemicals from cigarettes can damage your artery walls.
  • Reduce stress. Try yoga or meditation, take a walk or learn a new hobby. Taking a little “me time” each day can help recharge your body and mind.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours each night. It can help to set a regular sleep schedule and make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and comfy.

Managing your blood pressure is key in preventing many other health conditions. By monitoring your readings at home, adopting a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise), taking your blood pressure medicine as prescribed and  and seeing your provider regularly, you can proactively keep your blood pressure in check.