What is Hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measurement of force exerted against the vessel walls as blood circulates through the body. Pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Blood pressure measurements include two numbers, the systolic pressure (the first number) which measure the force of the blood in the vessels during a heartbeat, and diastolic pressure (the second number) which measures the force of the blood on the vessel walls between heartbeats. In most adults, blood pressures above 120/80 mmHg are considered to be higher than normal, with those above 130/90 mmHg considered to be hypertensive. This measurement can vary a little bit for older men and women and for some athletes. Having high blood pressure can increase the risks for several serious medical conditions including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, vision problems, and dementia. Hypertension is more common among smokers, people who are overweight, older people and those with certain chronic medical conditions, as well as those who are physically inactive and those who eat foods high in unhealthy fats and salt (sodium).

How is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?

High blood pressure is diagnosed with a simple test that uses a blood pressure cuff placed around the arm or ankle. As the cuff is inflated, sensitive sensors “pick up” and measure the beats produced by the blood as it flows through the vessels, both during heart beats and between beats.

What Symptoms Does High Blood Pressure Cause?

Hypertension usually causes no noticeable symptoms, which is why having routine blood pressure evaluations is so critically important for health, especially as we age and among people with certain chronic medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Many people won’t know they have hypertension until a heart attack or stroke occurs.

What Treatments are Available for Hypertension?

Patients with mildly elevated blood pressures (prehypertension) may be able to lower their blood pressure with lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, losing excess weight, being more physically active, and eating a diet high in fiber and low in unhealthy fats. Most people with high blood pressure will also need to take medications to ensure their pressure remains within healthy limits. Routine blood pressure checks are also an important part of making sure treatments remain optimized for the patient’s needs.