A to Z Health Guide

What You Should Know About High Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. The pressure moves blood from the heart to organs like the brain, kidneys and stomach.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured with a cuff around your upper arm:

  • cuff is pumped up and then let down while listening for the pulse sound
  • systolic pressure (top number) – is the pressure when the heart is beating
  • diastolic pressure (bottom number) – is pressure when the heart is resting
  • normal blood pressure is less then 120/80.
    • People with blood pressure between 120 and 139 for the top number
      and between 80 and 89 for the bottom number may be more likely to
      develop high blood pressure unless they take steps to help prevent it.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension.

  • occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is high enough to cause damage
  • in general readings at 140/90 or above are considered high
  • however, in people with diabetes or chronic kidney disease, a blood pressure of 130/80
    or higher is considered high
  • one high reading may not mean you have high blood pressure
  • high blood pressure must be confirmed on follow-up visits to your doctor or clinic

How often should I have my blood pressure checked?

It should be checked at least once a year and any time you see a doctor, or as often as your doctor advises.

What causes high blood pressure?

In most cases, the cause of high blood pressure is not known. Some things may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure:

  • family history of high blood pressure
  • race. African Americans have high blood pressure more often and more severely than whites
  • age. There is a greater chance for high blood pressure as you get older
  • being overweight
  • lack of exercise
  • excessive alcohol use
  • too much salt in the diet
  • oral contraceptives
  • gender. High blood pressure is more common in men than women
  • chronic kidney disease

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Usually, you can't tell when you have high blood pressure. You may experience:

  • headaches
  • vision changes.

Is high blood pressure a serious problem?

Yes. High blood pressure can:

  • damage important parts of your body, including your heart, brain, eyes and kidneys.
  • lead to strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease.

How is high blood pressure treated?

Treating high blood pressure usually includes a combination of medications and lifestyle changes such as:

  • losing excess weight
  • increasing exercise
  • cutting down on salt intake
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • changing your diet
  • stopping smoking.

Will I need to follow a special diet?

Maybe. Depending on your health status, your doctor may recommend that you:

  • lose weight
  • use less salt
  • eat less fat
  • flavor foods with spices and herbs instead of salt
  • eat foods high in calcium such as low-fat milk and yogurt and high in potassium such as nuts, raisins, fresh fruits and vegetables.( if you have chronic kidney disease, check with your doctor before changing your intake of high-potassium foods.)

What can I do to help control my high blood pressure?

You can:

  • have regular medical checkups
  • follow your doctor's advice concerning your treatment
  • take all your medicines exactly as prescribed your doctor.
  • stop smoking, if you are a smoker
  • avoid drinking more than one ounce of alcohol a day
  • get your family involved in your care plan

What if I have more questions?

  • speak to your doctor or dietitian
  • contact the National Kidney Foundation's toll free number 800-622-9010.

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.