Systemic hypertension refers to high blood pressure in the systemic arteries that carry blood away from the heart. It happens when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries remains elevated, causing strain on the heart and blood vessels.

People may use the phrase systemic hypertension interchangeably with hypertension or high blood pressure.

Hypertension may not cause symptoms until the blood pressure becomes very high. When a person experiences symptoms, they should report to the hospital, as very high blood pressure can be life threatening.

Symptoms can include vision changes, headaches, chest pain, or nausea. These symptoms typically occur when blood pressure measures over 180/120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

High blood pressure can lead to serious health complications if left uncorrected. These include heart disease and stroke, kidney failure, and vision loss.

People can manage their blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medication.

This article looks at systemic hypertension, other types of high blood pressure, and more.

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Systemic hypertension is a medical term that refers to elevated blood pressure levels in the systemic arteries, which can lead to various health complications.

The systemic arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other organs and tissues in the body, except the lungs.

This is the job of the pulmonary arteries on the left side of the heart, which carry deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs. High blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries is called pulmonary hypertension.

Some medical professionals define hypertension as a systolic blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher on two or more occasions.

Systolic pressure displays as the top number on a blood pressure reading. Diastolic pressure is the bottom number.

Systemic hypertension vs. hypertension

Medical professionals often use the terms systemic hypertension and hypertension interchangeably to refer to the same medical condition. People also call it high blood pressure.

Systemic hypertension vs. supine hypertension

Supine hypertension is when a person has high blood pressure when they are lying on their back facing upward.

Experts define it as a blood pressure of at least 140/90 mmHg diastolic when lying down.

Learn more

Learn more about hypertension.

The table below provides guidelines for blood pressure levels and what they mean:

CategorySystolic Pressureand/orDiastolic Pressure
NormalLess than 120andLess than 80
Elevated120-129andLess than 80
Stage 1 Hypertension130-139or80-89
Stage 2 Hypertension140 or higheror90 or higher
Hypertensive CrisisHigher than 180and/orHigher than 120

Hypertension or systemic hypertension can either be secondary or primary.

Primary hypertension

Most people with high blood pressure have primary hypertension, also known as essential hypertension. This is when the hypertension has an undefined singular cause, resulting from many different lifestyle and genetic factors.

Some lifestyle factors that can contribute to high blood pressure include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, having overweight, having a high salt intake, and not getting enough exercise.

Secondary hypertension

If another condition causes a person’s high blood pressure, medical professionals call it secondary hypertension.

Conditions that can cause secondary hypertension include:

  • Primary aldosteronism: A disorder where the adrenal glands produce too much of a hormone called aldosterone.
  • Renal artery stenosis: When one or more of the arteries that carry blood to the kidneys becomes narrow.
  • Pheochromocytoma: A tumor on the adrenal glands.

A doctor can diagnose these conditions with blood tests and imaging. A doctor may decide to investigate these potential causes after a person has tried several medications to treat their high blood pressure without success.

There are three subtypes that can fit into either primary or secondary hypertension. They are:

  • resistant hypertension
  • malignant hypertension
  • isolated hypertension

Resistant hypertension

This refers to hypertension that medication and lifestyle changes fail to treat. Blood pressure may remain high even with treatment.

A doctor may diagnose treatment-resistant hypertension if a person’s blood pressure exceeds 140/90 mmHg even after receiving treatment with three or more blood pressure-lowering medications and a diuretic.

The doctor will also have to rule out secondary hypertension to diagnose resistant hypertension.

Malignant hypertension

A 2022 review refers to malignant hypertension as uncontrolled high blood pressure with multiple complications and a poor outlook. It can cause damage to organs.

Doctors diagnose malignant hypertension when blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mmHg and there is damage to multiple organs.

However, this type of emergency is rare, happening in about 1 to 2 cases per million per year.

Isolated hypertension

According to a 2023 review, isolated hypertension is when a person’s blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg.

It is the most common form of hypertension in the older population. Experts estimate that 15% of people ages 60 or older have isolated systolic hypertension.

One potential reason for isolated hypertension in older people is that arteries become stiffer with age.

Treating systemic hypertension typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. The goal of treatment is to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of complications.

People can try to lower blood pressure using lifestyle changes, including:

Medications that commonly treat high blood pressure include:

A medical expert will choose the best medication for the patient. Certain medicines are better for people with comorbid conditions such as diabetes or coronary artery disease.

Learn more

Learn more about high blood pressure treatment and management.

Medical professionals consider typical blood pressure as less than 120/80 mmHg.

Hypertension is when a person has blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher on two or more occasions.

People can manage high blood pressure through a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.