5 Fast Facts About High Blood Pressure

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  • Knowing about high blood pressure can save your life. Some people refer to high blood pressure as the “silent killer.” The medical term for it is hypertension. When you have high blood pressure, there is too much pressure inside the blood vessels carrying blood away from your heart. These blood vessels are your arteries. The force of blood flowing through your arteries causes the pressure. About one of every three American adults has high blood pressure, but many people don't know they have it. Here are five blood pressure facts you really need to know.

  • 1
    High blood pressure is silent.
    Male taking blood pressure

    There are usually no symptoms of high blood pressure. You have to measure your blood pressure to know if you have it. A blood pressure check consists of two numbers. The top number is your systolic blood pressure—the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps. The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure—the pressure when your heart relaxes. These numbers tell the story. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. Prehypertension is 120 to 139 systolic or 90 to 99 diastolic. High blood pressure is greater than 140 systolic or greater than 90 diastolic.

  • 2
    You could be at risk.

    Doctors don’t know what causes high blood pressure for most people. They do know what increases your risk of developing it. These risk factors include having a family history of high blood pressure, smoking, eating a diet high in fat or salt, being overweight, not being active, and drinking too much alcohol. Your risk increases with age and is higher if you are an African-American. Stress, diabetes, and kidney disease also increase your risk. If you have risk factors, you need to check your blood pressure more frequently. Ask your doctor how often you need to check it.

  • 3
    High blood pressure is dangerous.
    Man with chest pain

    With time, high blood pressure damages your arteries. This can lead to serious health problems, including stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. In fact, about 7 in 10 people who have a heart attack for the first time also have high blood pressure. These complications of high blood pressure play a role in the death of about 1,000 Americans every day.

  • 4
    High blood pressure treatment works.
    Mixed race woman eating salad

    There's no cure for high blood pressure, but treatment is very effective at controlling it. Getting your blood pressure under control can prevent complications and help you lead a long, healthy life. Treatment usually starts with lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, losing weight, reducing stress, and exercising. Diet changes involve reducing the salt intake, adding lots of fruits and vegetables, and limiting alcohol. You might also need medication. The goal is finding a medicine that works best for you with the least side effects.

  • 5
    Prevention may be possible.

    You might be able to prevent high blood pressure by making the same lifestyle changes doctors recommend to treat it. This is true even if you have pre-hypertension. You may be able to keep it from turning into high blood pressure. Ask your doctor about starting an exercise program and a heart-healthy diet. Experts estimate about 11 million Americans could prevent high blood pressure by lowering the salt in their diet to 2,300 milligrams or less each day. Most importantly, get your blood pressure checked. If the silent killer is creeping up on you, you want to know it.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 6
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Get the Facts About HBP. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/GettheFactsAboutHighBloodPressure/The-Facts-About-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002050_Article.jsp

  2. High Blood Pressure. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/high-blood-pressure/

  3. High Blood Pressure Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm