Hypertension is another term used to describe high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Early death
You are more likely to have high blood pressure as you get older. This is because your blood vessels become stiffer as you age. When that happens, your blood pressure goes up.
When is your blood pressure a concern?
If your blood pressure is high, you need to lower it and keep it under control. Your blood pressure reading has 2 numbers. One or both of these numbers can be too high.
- The top number is called the systolic blood pressure. For most people, this reading is too high if it is 140 or higher.
- The bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure. For most people, this reading is too high if it is 90 or higher.
If you have had:
- A stroke
- Heart or kidney problems
Your doctor may want your blood pressure to be even lower. The most commonly used blood pressure targets for people with these medical problems are below 130 to 140/80 mmHg.
The above blood pressure numbers are goals that most experts agree on for most people. Your doctor will consider how these goals apply to you specifically.
Medications for blood pressure
Many medicines can help you control your blood pressure. Your doctor will:
- Prescribe the best medicine for you
- Monitor your medicines
- Make changes if needed
Older adults tend to take more medicines and this puts them at greater risk for harmful side effects. One side effect of blood pressure medicine is an increased risk for falls. When treating older adults, blood pressure goals need to be balanced against medicine side effects.
Diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes
In addition to taking medicine, you can do many things to help control your blood pressure. Some of these include:
- Limit the amount of sodium (salt) you eat. Aim for less than 1,500 mg per day.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink, no more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 a day for men.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes the recommended amounts of potassium and fiber.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Stay at a healthy body weight. Find a weight-loss program, if you need it.
- Exercise regularly. At least 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic exercise.
- Reduce stress. Try to avoid things that cause you stress, and try meditation or yoga to de-stress.
- If you smoke, quit. Find a program that will help you stop.
Your doctor can help you find programs for losing weight, stopping smoking, and exercising. You can also get a referral to a dietitian from your doctor. The dietitian can help you plan a diet that is healthy for you.
Checking your blood pressure
Your blood pressure can be measured at many places, including:
- Your doctor's office
- Your local fire station
- Some pharmacies
Your doctor may ask you to keep track of your blood pressure at home. Make sure you get a good quality, well-fitting home device. It is best to have one with a cuff for your arm and a digital readout. Practice with your doctor to make sure you are taking your blood pressure correctly.
It is normal for your blood pressure to be different at different times of the day.
It is usually higher when you are at work. It drops slightly when you are at home. It is usually lowest when you are sleeping.
It is normal for your blood pressure to increase suddenly when you wake up. For people with very high blood pressure, this is when they are most at risk for heart attack and stroke.
Your doctor will give you a physical exam and check your blood pressure often. With your doctor, establish a goal for your blood pressure.
If you monitor your blood pressure at home, keep a written record. Bring the results to your clinic visit.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if your blood pressure goes well above your normal range.
Also call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Severe headache
- Irregular heartbeat or pulse
- Chest pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Pain or tingling in the neck, jaw, shoulder, or arms
- Numbness or weakness in your body
- Trouble seeing
- Difficulty speaking
- Other side effects that you think might be from your medicine or your blood pressure
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Update Date 10/26/2014
Updated by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.