High Blood Pressure

Nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure and 2 in 3 people with diabetes report having high blood pressure or take prescription medications to lower their blood pressure. Your heart has to work harder when blood pressure is high, and your risk for heart disease, stroke and other problems goes up.

High blood pressure won’t go away without treatment. That could include lifestyle changes and, if your doctor prescribes it, medicine.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood flow inside your blood vessels. Your doctor records your blood pressure as two numbers, such as 120/80, which you may hear them say as "120 over 80." Both numbers are important.

The first number is the pressure as your heart beats and pushes blood through the blood vessels. Health care providers call this the "systolic" pressure. The second number is the pressure when the vessels relax between heartbeats. It's called the "diastolic" pressure.

Here's what the numbers mean:

  • Healthy blood pressure: below 120/80
  • Early high blood pressure: between 120/80 and 140/90
  • High blood pressure: 140/90 or higher

The lower your blood pressure, the better your chances of delaying or preventing a heart attack or a stroke.

When your blood moves through your vessels with too much force, you have high blood pressure or hypertension. Your heart has to work harder when blood pressure is high, and your risk for heart disease and diabetes goes up. High blood pressure raises your risk for heart attack, stroke, eye problems and kidney disease. High blood pressure is a problem that won't go away without treatment and changes to your diet and lifestyle.

You should always have an idea of what your blood pressure is, just as you know your height and weight.

How Will I Know if I Have High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is a silent problem — you won't know you have it unless your health care provider checks your blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked at each regular health care visit, or at least once every two years (people without diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease).

What Can I Do About High Blood Pressure?

Here are some easy tips to help reduce your blood pressure:

  • Work with your health care provider to find a treatment plan that's right for you.
  • Eat whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • Try herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Check food labels and choose foods with less than 400 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Lose weight or take steps to prevent weight gain.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and consult your health care provider about whether it is safe to drink alcohol at all.
  • If you smoke, get help to quit.
  • Ask your health care provider about medications to help reduce high blood pressure. Samples of these types of medications include ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics.

Learn more about your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

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  • Last Reviewed: July 31, 2013
  • Last Edited: December 6, 2013

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