High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure refers to the force against your blood vessels when your body circulates blood. A blood pressure reading contains two numbers. The top number measures the pressure when your heart pumps blood (systolic). The bottom number measures the pressure when your heart is at rest (diastolic).

High blood pressure – or hypertension – usually has no symptoms. But it can cause serious problems, such as strokeheart disease, heart attacks and kidney failure. That's why having your blood pressure checked regularly is important – even when you're feeling fine.

Take the High Blood Pressure Quiz to learn more and test your knowledge.

Blood pressure  guidelines
120/80 or lower Normal
120-139/80-89 At risk
140/90 or higher High

What you can do to help prevent and treat high blood pressure

Three out of four women with high blood pressure know they have it. Yet fewer than one in three of them are controlling it.

Even if you aren't sure or don't currently have high blood pressure, you can take steps to keep your blood pressure under control. Consider these lifestyle choices:

  • Following a healthy eating plan that includes limiting the amount of sodium and alcohol that you consume
  • Losing weight if you're overweight or obese
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing your stress

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will recommend treatment options to prevent long-term problems. In addition to recommending heart healthy lifestyle choices, your doctor may prescribe medication or a special diet.

DASH to lower your blood pressure

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension plan is aimed at lowering your blood pressure by focusing on the combinations of nutrients in wholesome foods.

Talk to your doctor

Be proactive. Talk to your doctor about ways to keep your blood pressure in check if you are obese, smoke, don't exercise regularly or eat an unhealthy diet.

Most doctors, clinics and hospitals check your blood pressure with every visit. If you know you're going to have your blood pressure tested, it's a good idea to:

  • Avoid drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes for 30 minutes prior to the test. These actions may cause a short-term rise in your blood pressure.
  • Go to the bathroom before the test. Having a full bladder can change your blood pressure reading.
  • Sit for 5 minutes before the test. Movement can cause short-term rises in blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is high, your doctor may have you return for more tests to check your blood pressure over time before making a diagnosis.

If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher for several tests, your doctor will likely diagnose you with high blood pressure. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure with a consistent reading of 130/80 or higher.