What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is a
measure of how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries and
veins as it moves through your body. It’s normal for blood pressure to go up
and down throughout the day, but if it stays up when you are resting, you have
high blood pressure.
Adult blood pressure is broken into
- Normal blood pressure-less than
- Prehypertension-120/80 or higher but less than
- Stage 1 high blood pressure-140/90 to
- Stage 2 high blood pressure-160/100 or higher
What are the risks of not lowering your blood pressure?
When blood pressure is higher than normal most of the time, it starts to
damage the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. This can lead to heart attack,
stroke, and other problems.
High blood pressure is just one of
several risk factors that make heart attack and stroke more likely. If you have
high blood pressure plus another risk factor, heart attack and stroke are even
more likely. Some risk factors are things you can control, others aren't.
Besides high blood pressure, these risk factors include:
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Having high total cholesterol, high LDL ("bad") cholesterol, or
low HDL ("good") cholesterol.
- Having diabetes.
- Having a
parent, sister, or brother with early heart disease (before age 45 for men or
before age 55 for women).
- Being male.
- Being overweight.
- Having an enlarged left ventricle (the lower left
chamber in the heart).
What is the treatment for high blood pressure?
Treatment depends on if you have a health problem that is causing your
high blood pressure, how high your blood pressure is, and whether you have
other health problems, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, kidney
disease, or diabetes. Some people may only need lifestyle changes to control
their blood pressure, while others need to take pills as well. Either way,
controlling high blood pressure is something you will have to work at all your
There are several different kinds of high blood pressure
pills. Many people need to take more than one. You may have to try several
before you find a combination that works well and has the fewest side effects.
Some pills cause very few side effects. Others may cause side effects such as
dry mouth, weakness or dizziness, a cough, or erection problems.
Why are lifestyle changes so important?
lifestyle or behavior can help control high blood pressure. You may be able to
avoid taking pills. If you are already taking blood pressure medicine, making
some lifestyle changes may let you take a lower dose.
- Losing as little as 10 lb (4.5 kg) can help
lower blood pressure.
- Physical activity lowers blood pressure,
especially if you have been inactive until now. Exercise also helps you manage
your weight, but it can lower your blood pressure even if you don't lose
- Reducing salt in your diet can help control high blood
- Some people may be able to lower their blood pressure by
eating more foods that contain potassium. These foods include lean meat, fish,
nonfat and low-fat dairy products, and many fruits and
- Drinking more than 3 alcohol drinks a day may raise
your blood pressure. It can also interfere with some blood pressure medicines.
Limiting alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women may help
lower blood pressure.
- Quitting smoking is important. Nicotine in
tobacco temporarily increases blood pressure and heart rate with each use.
Smoking also causes the arteries to tighten, which also increases blood
It can be very hard to change lifelong habits. If you
have not been very active for a long time, for example, you may find it hard to
start exercising. If you are used to eating whatever you want, it may be hard
for you to change your diet.
In order to be successful, you have
to understand why the change is necessary and then be ready to change. If your
doctor thinks you should make some changes, be honest about whether you think
you can do it. You may need to take blood pressure pills until you decide you
are ready to make lifestyle changes. But the combination of medicine and
lifestyle changes will have the biggest effect on lowering your risk of heart
attack or stroke.
If you decide to try lifestyle changes first,
you and your doctor may want to set a deadline. For example, you might decide
that you will try lifestyle changes for 3 to 6 months. Then, if your blood
pressure does not come down in that time, you may decide to start taking
If you need more information, see the topic
High Blood Pressure.