High blood pressure

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Definition

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body. Hypertension is another term used to describe high blood pressure.

Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers. The top number is called the systolic blood pressure. The bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure. For example, 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mmHg).

One or both of these numbers can be too high.

If you have heart or kidney problems, or you had a stroke, your doctor may want your blood pressure to be even lower than that of people who do not have these conditions.

Alternative Names

Hypertension; HBP

Causes

Many factors can affect blood pressure, including:

You are more likely to be told your blood pressure is too high as you get older. This is because your blood vessels become stiffer as you age. When that happens, your blood pressure goes up. High blood pressure increases your chance of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, or early death.

You have a higher risk of high blood pressure if:

Most of the time, no cause of high blood pressure is found. This is called essential hypertension.

High blood pressure that is caused by another medical condition or medicine you are taking is called secondary hypertension. Secondary hypertension may be due to:

Symptoms

Most of the time, there are no symptoms. For most patients, high blood pressure is found when they visit their health care provider or have it checked elsewhere.

Because there are no symptoms, people can develop heart disease and kidney problems without knowing they have high blood pressure.

Malignant hypertension is a dangerous form of very high blood pressure. Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Your doctor will measure your blood pressure many times before diagnosing you with high blood pressure. It is normal for your blood pressure to be different based on the time of day.

Blood pressure readings taken at home may be a better measure of your current blood pressure than those taken at your health care provider's office.

Your health care provider will do a physical exam to look for signs of heart disease, damage to the eyes, and other changes in your body.

Tests may also be done to look for:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure so that you have a lower risk of complications. You and your health care provider should set a blood pressure goal for you.

If you have pre-hypertension, your health care provider will recommend lifestyle changes to bring your blood pressure down to a normal range. Medicines are rarely used for pre-hypertension.

You can do many things to help control your blood pressure at home, including:

Your health care provider can help you find programs for losing weight, stopping smoking, and exercising.

You can also get a referral from your health care provider to a dietitian, who can help you plan a diet that is healthy for you.

How low your blood pressure should be and at what level you need to start treatment is individualized, based on your age and any medical problems you have.

There are many different medicines to treat high blood pressure.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, high blood pressure can be controlled with medicine and lifestyle changes.

When blood pressure is not well-controlled, you are at risk for:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you have high blood pressure, you will have regular checkups with your health care provider.

Even if you have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important to have your blood pressure checked during your regular check-up, especially if someone in your family has or had high blood pressure.

Call your health care provider right away if home monitoring shows that your blood pressure is still high.

Prevention

Most people can prevent high blood pressure from occurring by following lifestyle changes designed to bring blood pressure down.

References

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -- 2014. Diabetes Care. 2014;37 Suppl 1:S14-S80.

Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2011 Feb;42:517-584.

Handler J, et al. 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: report from the panel members appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8). JAMA. 2014 Feb 5;311(5):507-520.

James PA, Oparil S, Carter BL, et al. 2014 Evidence-Based Guideline for the Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: Report From the Panel Members Appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8). JAMA. 2014;311(5):507-520.

Kaplan NM. Systemic hypertension: Treatment. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 46.

Peterson ED, Gaziano JM, Greenland P. Recommendations for treating hypertension: what are the right goals and purposes? JAMA. 2014 Feb 5;311(5):474-476.

Victor, RG. Systemic hypertension: Mechanisms and diagnosis. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 45.

Weber MA, Schiffrin EL, White WB, Mann S, Lindholm LH, Kenerson JG, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for the management of hypertension in the community:a statement by the American Society of Hypertension and the International Society of Hypertension. J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2014 Jan;16(1):14-26. Epub 2013 Dec 17.

Wright JT Jr, Fine LJ, Lackland DT, Ogedegbe G, Dennison Himmelfarb CR. Evidence supporting a systolic blood pressure goal of less than 150 mm hg in patients aged 60 years or older: the minority view. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Apr 1;160(7):499-503.


Review Date: 5/13/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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