Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries as it goes around a person’s body. Sometimes, it can become too high, which can be dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 out of 3 adults in the United States have high blood pressure (hypertension).

In this article, we explore the myths surrounding high blood pressure symptoms. We also discuss when to see a doctor and how to manage hypertension.

a woman sat in bed and experience a head as part of her High blood pressure symptomsShare on Pinterest
Headaches and difficulty sleeping can be symptoms of high blood pressure but may also be due to an underlying condition.

Most of the time, high blood pressure has no symptoms. It is known as the silent killer.

Symptoms people may think are due to high blood pressure include:

  • headaches
  • difficulty sleeping
  • nosebleeds
  • sweating
  • facial flushing
  • nervousness
  • blood spots in the eyes
  • dizziness

However, these symptoms may not be due to high blood pressure, and anyone experiencing them should speak to a doctor as they may also be signs of other health conditions or side effects of medications.

People cannot rely on only physical symptoms to alert them of high blood pressure. To diagnose or monitor hypertension, a person should measure their blood pressure regularly.

A person can measure their blood pressure at home.

Blood pressure readings are in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The top number (systolic) indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart beats. The lower number (diastolic) indicates the pressure as the heart rests between beats.

As long as a person measures their blood pressure correctly, the results are just as reliable as a doctor’s measurement.

The following table, from the American Heart Association (AHA) shows the classification of high blood pressure in adults:

Normal blood pressureElevated blood pressureStage 1 hypertensionStage 2 hypertensionHypertensive crisis
Systolic blood pressureless than 120 mm Hg120–129 mm Hg130–139 mm Hg140 mm Hg or higher180 mm Hg or higher
Diastolic blood pressureless than 80 mm Hgless than 80 mm Hg80–89 mm Hg90 mm Hg or higher120 mm Hg or higher

Learn more about how to understand blood pressure readings here.

Although high blood pressure does not usually cause symptoms, anyone experiencing a sudden, severe headache or nosebleed should check their blood pressure.

If their blood pressure is above 180/120 mm Hg, they should stay rested for 5 minutes and recheck their blood pressure. If the blood pressure is still higher than 180/120 mm Hg, they need to seek medical help at their doctor’s office.

If a person is experiencing severe symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or visual difficulty, they need to call 911 for emergency medical treatment as they may be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.

Medications to reduce blood pressure can cause side effects such as dizziness. If this side effect does not go away or affects a person’s daily activities, they should speak with their family doctor.

Researchers have shown a clear relationship between higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In an analysis of 61 studies, researchers found that a 20 mm Hg higher systolic and a 10 mm Hg higher diastolic blood pressure were each associated with a doubling of the risk of:

Another study including 1.25 million participants, showed that higher blood pressure had associations with:

Genetics

According to the CDC, high blood pressure can be affected by genetics.

One review states that a person’s chance of inheriting high blood pressure is roughly 30–50%. The review also notes that although researchers have isolated genes that control blood pressure, these gene variants accounted for only 2–3% of genetic variations in blood pressure.

Lifestyle factors

The following environmental factors may influence a person’s blood pressure:

  • Excessive salt intake: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend that people consume no more than 2.4 grams (g) of sodium per day, which is about 1 teaspoon (tsp) of table salt per day.
  • Low potassium intake: Potassium helps the body remove sodium. The AHA recommend a person consumes 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day.
  • Weight: According to a comprehensive report by the American College of Cardiology and the AHA Task Force, people can expect to lower their blood pressure by around 1 mm Hg per 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight loss.
  • Exercise: A 2015 study indicated that aerobic exercise could reduce blood pressure by 5–7 mm Hg.

Since there is a strong connection between environmental factors and blood pressure, healthcare professionals have been promoting hypertension prevention.

The AHA recommend:

  • eating a healthful diet low in salt
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • enjoying regular physical activity
  • managing stress
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting tobacco smoking

A healthful diet for the heart consists of eating:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low fat dairy products
  • skinless poultry and fish
  • nuts and legumes
  • non-tropical vegetable oils

People who follow a healthful diet to prevent hypertension and cardiovascular disease should also avoid or limit:

  • saturated and trans fats
  • sodium
  • red meat
  • sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages

People who eat well, stop smoking, lower their stress, and exercise regularly may see benefits in their general health.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) may be beneficial in helping to prevent or treat high blood pressure.

Learn more about the DASH diet here.

Doctors and health professionals often refer to high blood pressure as a silent killer, and it is a risk factor associated with cardiovascular disease.

People who have high blood pressure may not experience any physical symptoms and may not be aware that their blood pressure is high.

During a hypertensive crisis, people with a blood pressure above 180/120 mm Hg may experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, blurry vision, headache, or nosebleed.

People experiencing a hypertensive crisis require emergency medical attention.

The most reliable way to detect high blood pressure is by regularly checking blood pressure measurements.