Hypertension (high blood pressure) is abnormally high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. It carries with it an increased risk of death and disability from heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.

High blood pressure is very common but cannot be seen or felt. The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to keep track of your numbers. You can get your blood pressure checked at your doctors office, at home, or at your local pharmacy. It doesn't matter where you get it checked, just make sure to get your blood pressure checked regularly.

Defining High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is defined by 2 numbers (systolic and diastolic). The systolic or top number measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The diastolic or bottom number measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.

Systolic blood pressure (SBP) less than 120 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) less than 80 mm Hg is considered normal. Abnormal levels include:

  • Prehypertension is SBP120-139 mm Hg or DPB 80-89 mm Hg
  • Stage 1 hypertension is SBP 140-159 mm Hg or DPB 90-99 mm Hg
  • Stage 2 hypertension is SBP more than 160 mm Hg or DBP more than 100 mm Hg

In patients with diabetes or with kidney disease, the targets numbers are lower. Check with your doctor to see what your blood pressure is and where you need it to be.

Common Risk Factors

There is no single cause for getting high blood pressure, but there are several things that can increase your risk.

Some risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Age: middle-aged or elderly (onset generally happens at 20-50 years, but likelihood increases with age)
  • Race: African American
  • Gender: Male

Medical factors, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • A high-normal blood pressure (systolic pressure of 120-139 mm Hg and/or a diastolic pressure of 80-89 mm Hg)
  • A family history of high blood pressure

Lifestyle factors, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Being physically inactive
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Having diet high in red meat, salt, fat
  • High alcohol intake

Risk factors do not mean you will get high blood pressure but that you have an increased chance of developing it. Fortunately, there are also factors that can help you prevent high blood pressure or lower your blood pressure if you already have high blood pressure.

Lifestyle Guidelines to Prevent or Reduce High Blood Pressure

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s recommendations to help prevent or lower high blood pressure include:

Another approach endorsed by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is use of the DASH diet. This is a special low-salt diet which has been shown effective in both preventing and treating high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a major player in heart disease and stroke. Protect yourself and know your numbers. The next time you take a trip to the pharmacy, check your blood pressure. If you do it on a regular basis and follow the lifestyle guidelines, you may be able to avoid future problems.