Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood to all the parts of your body.
When your heart pumps, it squeezes blood through the arteries and the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries is higher. This is the systolic blood pressure. In between beats of your heart, the blood pressure is lower because the heart is not pushing blood through the arteries. This is the diastolic blood pressure. We write this with the systolic blood pressure over the diastolic blood pressure (systolic/diastolic). If your systolic blood pressure is 116 and the diastolic is 76, we would write 116/76 and say “116 over 76”.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when your blood pressure is higher than normal. High blood pressure is sometimes called “the silent killer” because people with high blood pressure often have no symptoms and, left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, and vision loss.
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to measure it. Your doctor should measure your blood pressure at most office visits.
There are also many good blood pressure monitors that allow you to check your blood pressure at home. The American Heart Association recommends monitors that wrap around your upper arm because they are more reliable. It is also important that the cuff (the part that wraps around your arm) fits properly to get an accurate reading.
If you monitor your blood pressure at home, it’s a good idea to write down when you took your blood pressure and the reading so you can share it with your healthcare provider. Many newer home blood pressure monitors can send your readings right to an app your smartphone.
What is Considered High Blood Pressure?
As our knowledge about blood pressure increased, the medical community learned that it is important to keep blood pressure at lower levels than what we used to think was safe. The most recent guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are to keep systolic blood pressure less than 120 and diastolic blood pressure less than 80.
Treating High Blood Pressure
There are many different medicines that work in different ways to treat high blood pressure. Your doctor may start with one and either increase the dose or add additional medicines if your blood pressure is not controlled. Some blood pressure medicines can have side effects, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about anything that you notice.
Don’t ever stop a blood pressure medicine without first talking with your doctor or pharmacist. Also check with your doctor or a pharmacist before taking over the counter medicines which might react with your blood pressure medicine or increase your blood pressure.
There are also things that you can do to help lower your blood pressure:
- Get regular exercise. We recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week. It is okay to break the exercise into shorter segments of 10 or 15 minutes.
- Stop smoking if you are a smoker.
- Eat a diet with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less meat and dairy.
- Limit your salt (sodium) intake. You should get less than 2,300 mg total of sodium (the amount in 1 teaspoon) every day. That includes salt that you add to foods and the salt in processed, packaged foods. Get in the habit of checking the sodium content on pre-packaged foods. It can be surprising!
- Cut back on alcohol.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Avoid high levels of stress and learn to control the stress that you do have.
- Get 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep every night.
Learn More about Hypertension
- American Heart Association
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Food and Drug Administration
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Sodium in Food