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High Blood Pressure

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High blood pressure (hypertension) means the pressure in your blood vessels is too high. Approximately 70 to 80 million Americans have hypertension. However, only half of those diagnosed have their high blood pressure under control. Uncontrolled high blood pressure places you at risk for aneurysm, stroke, organ damage, heart attack, and other heart conditions. 

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

Doctors sometimes call hypertension a “silent” disease. Even when blood pressure readings are dangerously high, there are usually no noticeable symptoms. Undiagnosed high blood pressure can go unnoticed for years, causing irreversible damage to your heart. That’s why blood pressure checks are so important — and why Dignity Health offers them to all our patients. The American Heart Association recommends regular blood pressure screening every two years starting at age 20. 

Your blood pressure reading provides two measurements: 

  • Systolic blood pressure is the pressure that occurs when your heart is pushing blood through your body and squeezing (contracting). It should be less than 120. It’s the top number of a blood pressure reading.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure that occurs when your heart is filling with blood and relaxing. It should be less than 80. It’s the bottom number of a blood pressure reading.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

There are two types of hypertension, each with different causes:

  • Essential or primary hypertension is the most common type of high blood pressure. It develops over time and the cause is undetermined.
  • Secondary hypertension is caused by certain medications or another underlying medical condition such as kidney problems or thyroid disease. Treating the underlying cause will usually lower blood pressure to a normal range.

Risk factors for developing primary hypertension include:

  • Age. Around 65 percent of adults older than 60 have high blood pressure.
  • Being overweight
  • Ethnicity. African Americans are more likely to develop primary hypertension.
  • Family history
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life, while men are more likely to develop it in middle age.
  • Lifestyle factors, including poor diet, smoking, drinking alcohol, stress, and lack of exercise

Tips to Lower Blood Pressure 

For primary hypertension, the main treatment includes lifestyle changes (not smoking, regular exercise, and a low-salt diet) and medications such as:

  • alpha blockers
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • beta blockers 
  • calcium channel blockers
  • diuretics
  • vasodilators

Secondary hypertension is usually treated by addressing the underlying cause which brings blood pressure back to normal.

Learn More

For more information, please view our High-Risk Pregnancy page, or call us to Find a Doctor.