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What Is High Blood Pressure?

 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.

  • Normal blood pressure is when your blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg most of the time.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) is when your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above most of the time.
  • If your blood pressure numbers are 120/80 or higher, but below 140/90, it is called pre-hypertension.

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.

 

Causes

Many factors can affect blood pressure, including:

  • The amount of water and salt you have in your body
  • The condition of your kidneys, nervous system, or blood vessels
  • Your hormone levels

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 attackheart failurekidney disease, or early death.

You have a higher risk of high blood pressure if:

  • You are African American
  • You are obese
  • You are often stressed or anxious
  • You drink too much alcohol (more than 1 drink per day for women and more than 2 drinks per day for men)
  • You eat too much salt
  • You have a family history of high blood pressure
  • You have diabetes
  • You smoke

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:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Disorders of the adrenal gland (such as pheochromocytoma or Cushing syndrome)
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Pregnancy or preeclampsia
  • Medications such as birth control pills, diet pills, some cold medicines, and migraine medicines
  • Narrowed artery that supplies blood to the kidney (renal artery stenosis)