Hypertension or high blood pressure often produces no symptoms, but it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions. Medication and lifestyle choices can help manage hypertension.
Read on to learn why a person’s blood pressure can increase and what the symptoms are.
This article also explains how a person can monitor their blood pressure and discusses ways to keep it within a typical range.
Finally, we answer some common questions about the condition.
Blood pressure is the force that a person’s blood exerts against the walls of their blood vessels. This pressure depends on the resistance of the blood vessels and how hard the heart has to work.
Certain conditions, medications, and health factors can increase this pressure.
Hypertension is blood pressure that is consistently higher than
The systolic reading of 130 mm Hg refers to the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body. The diastolic reading of 80 mm Hg refers to the pressure as the heart relaxes and refills with blood.
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AHA) define blood pressure ranges as:
|Systolic (mm Hg)||Diastolic (mm Hg)|
|Normal blood pressure||less than 120||less than 80|
|Elevated blood pressure||120–129||less than 80|
|Grade 1 hypertension||130–139||80–89|
|Grade 2 hypertension||140 and over||90 and over|
Hypertension is a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and aneurysm. Managing blood pressure is vital for preserving health and reducing the risk of these dangerous conditions.
A person with hypertension may not notice any symptoms. Without detection, hypertension can damage the heart, blood vessels, and other organs, such as the kidneys.
It is vital to check blood pressure regularly.
In rare and severe cases, high blood pressure can cause:
- sleeping problems
However, most people with hypertension will experience no symptoms at all.
If high blood pressure becomes a hypertensive crisis, a person may experience headaches and nosebleeds.
Long-term hypertension can cause complications through atherosclerosis, where plaque develops on the walls of blood vessels, causing them to narrow.
This narrowing worsens hypertension because the heart must pump harder to circulate the blood.
Hypertension-related atherosclerosis can lead to:
- heart failure and heart attacks
- aneurysm, or an atypical bulge in the wall of an artery that can burst
- kidney failure
- hypertensive retinopathies in the eye, which can lead to blindness
Regular blood pressure monitoring can help people avoid these more severe complications.
Measuring blood pressure
Having high blood pressure for a short time can be a normal response to many situations. Acute stress and intense exercise, for example, can briefly elevate blood pressure in an otherwise healthy person.
For this reason, a diagnosis of hypertension requires several readings that show sustained high blood pressure over time.
The cause of hypertension is often not known. In many cases, it is the result of an underlying condition.
High blood pressure that is not due to another condition or disease is known as primary or essential hypertension. If an underlying condition is a cause of increased blood pressure, doctors call this secondary hypertension.
Primary hypertension can result from multiple factors, including:
- having obesity
- insulin resistance
- high salt intake
- excessive alcohol intake
- having a sedentary lifestyle
Secondary hypertension has specific causes and is a complication of another health problem.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common cause of high blood pressure, as the kidneys no longer filter out fluid. This excess fluid leads to hypertension. Hypertension can also cause CKD.
Other conditions that can lead to hypertension include:
- diabetes, due to it causing kidney problems and nerve damage
- pheochromocytoma — a rare cancer of an adrenal gland
- Cushing’s syndrome
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia — a disorder of the cortisol-secreting adrenal glands
- hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland
- hyperparathyroidism, which affects calcium and phosphorous levels
- sleep apnea
A number of factors increase the risk of hypertension.
- Age: Hypertension is more common in people who are over
65 years old. Blood pressure can increase steadily with age as the arteries stiffen and narrow due to plaque buildup.
- Ethnicity: Some ethnic groups are more prone to hypertension than others. African Americans have a
higher riskthan other ethnic groups, for example.
- Weight: Obesity is a primary risk factor for hypertension.
- Alcohol and tobacco use: Regularly consuming large quantities of alcohol or tobacco can increase blood pressure.
- Sex: According to a
2018 review, males have a higher risk of developing hypertension than females. However, this is only until females reach menopause.
- Existing health conditions: Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and high cholesterol levels can lead to hypertension, especially as people age.
Lifestyle adjustments are the standard, first-line treatment for hypertension.
Regular physical exercise
Current guidelines recommend that all people, including those with hypertension, engage in at least
People should exercise at least 5 days every week.
Examples of suitable activities are:
Studies show that strength, or resistance, training can also
Avoiding or learning to manage stress can help a person control blood pressure.
A few relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress are:
- warm baths
- going on long walks
People should avoid consuming alcohol and recreational drugs to cope with stress, as these can contribute to elevated blood pressure and the complications of hypertension.
Smoking can also increase blood pressure. Avoiding or quitting smoking reduces the risk of hypertension, serious heart conditions, and other health issues.
People can use specific medications to treat hypertension. Doctors will often recommend a low dose at first. Antihypertensive medications will usually only have minor side effects.
Eventually, people with hypertension may need to combine
Medications for hypertension include:
- diuretics, including thiazides, chlorthalidone, and indapamide
- beta-blockers and alpha-blockers
- calcium-channel blockers
- central agonists
- peripheral adrenergic inhibitors
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- angiotensin receptor blockers
The choice of medication depends on the person and any underlying medical conditions they may have.
Anyone taking antihypertensive medications should carefully read the labels of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs they may also take, such as decongestants. These OTC drugs can interact with the medications they are taking to lower their blood pressure.
People can prevent high blood pressure by following a heart-healthy diet.
Reducing salt intake
High sodium consumption
The AHA recommends that people without hypertension consume less than
Moderating alcohol consumption
Moderate to excessive alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure.
The AHA recommends a maximum of
The following would count as one drink:
- a 12-ounce (oz) bottle of beer
- 4 oz of wine
- 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits
- 1 oz of 100-proof spirits
A healthcare professional can help people reduce consumption if they find it difficult to moderate their alcohol intake.
Eating more fruits and vegetables and less fat
People who have high blood pressure or people at high risk of developing it should reduce their intake of saturated fats in favor of unsaturated fats.
Learn more about saturated and unsaturated fats here.
- whole grain, high-fiber foods
- a variety of fruits and vegetables
- pulses, such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils
- fish rich in omega-3 twice per week
- nontropical vegetable oils, such as olive oil
- skinless poultry and fish
- low-fat dairy products
Limiting trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils, animal fats, and processed fast foods can help manage blood pressure.
However, some fats can be a healthful addition to diet plans. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish and olive oil, have protective effects on the heart. While these are typically healthful, people with a risk of hypertension should still include them in their total fat intake.
Learn more about following a healthful diet here.
Managing body weight
Excess body weight can
A balanced diet with a calorie intake that matches the person’s size, sex, and activity level will help.
The DASH diet
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
DASH is a flexible and balanced eating plan with a firm grounding in research by the NHLBI, which says that the diet:
- lowers high blood pressure
- improves levels of fats in the bloodstream
- reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
Below are some common questions relating to high blood pressure.
How can I quickly lower my blood pressure?
Physical relaxation and calming breathing exercises can help lower blood pressure in periods of extreme stress. Taking relevant medication and practicing healthy lifestyle habits are often the fastest way to lower blood pressure in the short to medium term.
How can a person cure hypertension?
With treatment, people can almost always bring their blood pressure down to healthful levels. Lifestyle changes can help people to maintain moderate blood pressure levels.
Is hypertension genetic?
A family history of hypertension
Is high blood pressure a heart disease?
Hypertension is not a type of heart disease. However, the condition may increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. The term
A person has hypertension when their blood pressure is consistently high.
However, the American College of Cardiology and the AHA recommend that people with hypertension maintain their blood pressure below
Hypertension can increase a person’s risk of developing a range of heart-related conditions, such as heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
Family history and lifestyle factors are often the cause of hypertension, while dietary and activity changes can help people maintain a healthy blood pressure level.
Doctors may also recommend a combination of medications to manage a person’s blood pressure.