Hypertension (high blood pressure)

What is it?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force that blood exerts upon artery walls as it's pumped throughout the body. The amount of blood pumped, as well as the size and flexibility of the arteries, are the key factors that determine blood pressure.

Blood pressure readings have two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure, the "top" number, is a measurement of pressure as the heart contracts, to pump blood.  Less than 120 is considered a normal, healthy number.
  • Diastolic pressure, the "bottom" number, is a measurement of pressure when the heart relaxes and is re-filled with blood.  Less than 80 is considered a normal, healthy number.
  • As blood pressure rises over normal readings, health risk increases. High blood pressure is a systolic reading of 140 (or higher) and a diastolic reading of 90 (or higher) taken over time.


Because high blood pressure typically doesn’t have symptoms, most individuals with high blood pressure — even dangerously high blood pressure levels — are unaware they have it.

 Those with high blood pressure may experience:

  • Dull headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Nosebleed

Risk factors

  • Advancing age
  • Race: African-Americans are at higher risk
  • Family history of hypertension
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Tobacco use
  • Drinking alcohol in excess
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • High sodium (salt) intake
  • Stress
  • Chronic conditions: diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease, and sleep apnea

Diagnosing high blood pressure

  • Measure your BP both at home and at the doctor’s office
  • If your BP reading is consistently over 130/80, you may be diagnosed with hypertension 
  • See your primary care provider or a cardiologist for confirmation and to develop a treatment plan

Treating/managing high blood pressure

  • Monitoring: Check your blood pressure numbers at home in addition to your regular doctor visits
  • Maintaining a proper weight: Being overweight is one of the strongest predictors of developing high blood pressure. 
  • Reducing salt intake: Limiting sodium intake to 2,400 mg per day — one level teaspoon — can help lower blood pressure.
  • Increasing physical activity: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise — such as walking — every day.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption: Men should consume no more than two drinks per day; women should have no more than one drink per day.
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Medications: Some prescription options are beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium-channel blockers, and diuretics