What is high blood pressure?

Marcus Williams, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Hypertension is the medical term for someone who has a persistently elevated blood pressure. Blood pressure is generated by the heart as it pumps blood through the circulatory system. Because the cycle of a heart beats includes contraction (squeezing) and relaxation (resting) of the heart muscle, two pressures are measured by the blood pressure cuff. The first is the systolic pressure which the top number generated during the peak contraction of the heart and the second is the diastolic or bottom number generated when the heart relaxes.

Having adequate blood pressure is vital to life. Because of the various stresses the body experiences (i.e. running, standing, eating or sleeping) blood pressure constantly changes to adapt to the new environment. Without this rapid response humans could not function. So if you were to plot out blood pressure measurement over time in an individual it would look like the graph of the stock market with a saw tooth jagged progression. Therefore it is the averages or mean blood pressure overtime that best predicts risk and defines hypertension (high blood pressure).

So generally if two or more resting blood pressures done when the person has sat for 10 minutes and is relaxed is elevated than by definition the person has hypertension. Hypertension for most people is defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure great than or equal to 90 mmHg.

However the risk of hypertension follows a continuum. This means that even within the normal recommended ranges the high normal blood pressures have more strokes and heart attacks than the lower range. This observation has led experts to set the target for hypertension lower for diabetics and patients with renal disease.

If you are concern about your risk of hypertension and where your target numbers should be you should consult your physician or cardiologist. You can also go to my website and click on the ABC or the AHA icon to learn more. Thank you.
Learn more from Dr. Michael Rakotz on behalf of NorthShore University about hypertension.
Blood pressure measures the tension exerted on the walls of the blood vessels in your body by your blood. The higher the blood pressure, the harder your heart works to pump your blood. High blood pressure can be a normal reaction to stress, but if high pressure is sustained over a long period of time, it can lead to diseases that damage the heart and kidney.
Nassir A. Azimi, MD
Interventional Cardiology
High blood pressure is elevated blood pressure measured on two separate occassions. It is classified as primary or secondary. Primary hypertension is also termed essential hypertension.  Secondary hypertension is due to other factors such as hormonal excess, kidney artery disease, etc. 
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Administration
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers: systolic (the top number in a reading) and diastolic (the bottom number). If your doctor says your blood pressure is 120/80, 120 is the systolic number; 80 is the diastolic number.

Systolic pressure refers to the force of blood against the walls of the arteries when the heart contracts to pump blood to the rest of the body. Diastolic pressure refers to the pressure within the arteries as the heart relaxes and refills with blood (which explains why the diastolic number is always lower than the systolic measurement).

Hypertension is defined as systolic pressure greater than 140 mm Hg or diastolic pressure greater than 90 mm Hg.

Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

Hypertension is characterized by a persistent increase in the force that the blood exerts upon the artery walls. It is normal for this force to increase with stress or physical exertion, but with hypertension, the patient's blood pressure is high even when they're resting.

Some 60 million Americans have hypertension, but only about half of them know it, primarily because it so rarely causes any noticeable symptoms and is usually detected only incidentally during a routine physical examination. But left untreated, hypertension promotes atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and destruction of tiny blood vessels in the eye, which can result in vision loss. For these reasons hypertension is often called "the silent killer."
Shailesh Malla
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the resistance that your blood experiences while flowing through your arteries. When arteries are narrowed, the heart has to work harder to pump more blood. This results in high blood pressure.
Andrea C. Bryan, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as a blood pressure that is consistently at or above 140/90. Goal blood pressure should be less than 120/80. In between these two numbers is termed "prehypertension" and signals a need for lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, increased exercise, or decreased sodium intake.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. It does not refer to being tense, nervous, or hyperactive. You can be calm and relaxed, and still have high blood pressure. A single, elevated blood pressure reading does not mean that you have hypertension, but it is a sign that further observation might be required.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries as it circulates in your body. High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when blood vessels become narrow or stiff, forcing your heart to pump harder to push blood through your body. When the force of the blood against your artery walls becomes too high, you are said to have high blood pressure or hypertension.
Dev G. Vaz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a state of elevated blood pressure greater than 140/90 mmHg after five minutes of rest on three or more different occasions in a short period of time. It causes strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure if not adequately treated.
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Sameer A. Sayeed, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries. With high blood pressure, the pressure in the arteries is too high. This can be caused by hardening of the arteries with age, making the arteries less flexible thus allowing the pressure to increase, or from stress, high sodium intake, smoking or excessive caffeine intake, which can all cause the arteries to constrict and again elevate blood pressure. High blood pressure is defined as a pressure of 140/90 or greater but in diabetics and those with heart disease, the cut off for high blood pressure is lower, around 135/85. High blood pressure can eventually lead to stroke, heart attack and other vascular complications and thus it necessary to treat high blood pressure with diet modification, smoking cessation, exercise and medications when it does become apparent.
Douglas Jacoby, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

High blood pressure is currently defined by a blood pressure of greater than 140 over 90.When the blood pressure is this high, a person has twice the risk of a bad health outcome, such as stroke or heart attack, relative to a person with a normal blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading cause of heart failure.

The left lower chamber (ventricle) of the heart pumps blood into the arteries, which carry the blood to the body. If pressure in the arteries is normal and they stretch easily, there is no extra strain on the left chamber as it pumps. If pressure in the arteries is high, the heart has to pump harder to force out the blood into the arteries. If blood pressure stays high for a long time, then the heart's left pumping chamber can become enlarged and weak. Heart failure can be the result.

Penn Medicine
Administration
The left lower chamber (ventricle) of the heart pumps blood into the arteries, which carry the blood to the body. If pressure in the arteries is normal and they stretch easily, there is no extra strain on the left chamber as it pumps. If pressure in the arteries is high, the heart has to pump harder to force out the blood into the arteries. If blood pressure stays high for a long time, then the heart's left pumping chamber can become enlarged and weak. Heart failure can be the result.
Bernadette Anderson
Family Medicine

One-third of people with high blood pressure feel “normal"; therefore, it is called the “silent killer.” It is an elevated force of blood pushing against the artery walls. It can go undetected for years causing serious damage before there are signs that something is wrong.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease which is the leading cause of death among Americans. If it is uncontrolled, you are susceptible to kidney failure, a heart attack, a stroke, impaired blood circulation, and damage to the eyes. It is crucial to be proactive in lowering high blood pressure. 

The number to know is 120/80. The top number is the force of the blood when the heart is working. The bottom number is the force of the blood when the heart is relaxing. Put it on Facebook, in your iPhone, make it a screensaver, flag it anyway you choose, as long as you know that a normal blood pressure is 120/80. See your doctor for any number higher.

High blood pressure is not reserved for a specific age, ethnicity, or sex; partly because, the fast paced lifestyle of many Americans lends itself to a fried, salty, sugary, super-sized diet. Who has high blood pressure? You are more likely to have it if:

  • your exercise is flipping channels with a remote.
  • your muffin top is not on a pastry menu.
  • your happy hour last hours.
  • you can be mistaken for a chimney.
  • you are awakened by the melody of your own snoring.
  • you are usually seconds from a spontaneous combustion.

In essence, high blood pressure is more likely to occur in an inactive, exhausted, overweight smoker who handles stress by drinking more than 1-2 alcoholic beverages a day. 

Other risk factors for high blood pressure that cannot be modified are:

  • family history - it is diagnosed amongst close blood relatives; 
  • age - as you age, blood vessels loose flexibility leading to high blood pressure; and
  • race - African Americans develop high blood pressure earlier than whites and often have more complications.

The key is distinguishing the modifiable from the non-modifiable risks. Seek advice from your physician. Take medications as prescribed. Lifestyle changes may help reduce the number of medicines required. In some cases, the doctor may be able to stop them!

The next time you say no to the shake and bake, yes to the salt, or drive pass the gym, remember you may be that one-third who has high blood pressure while feeling “normal.”

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

High blood pressure is when the force of blood moving through the vessels is above recommended amounts (for example, greater than 120/80). The top number is called systolic pressure and the bottom diastolic pressure. The DASH diet is a great program to follow to help lower blood pressure. High blood pressure, left untreated, can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

High blood pressure is another major risk factor for heart disease. It is a condition where the pressure of the blood in the arteries is too high. There are often no symptoms to signal high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure by changes in lifestyle or by medication can lower the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the US Government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.
Lori Maggioni
Nutrition & Dietetics

Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure.

  • Normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure <120 mmHg and diastolic pressure <80 mmHg.
  • Prehypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 120 -139 mmHg or diastolic pressure from 80 -89 mmHg.
  • Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure from 140 -159 mmHg or diastolic pressure from 90 -99 mmHg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension is a more severe hypertension, with a systolic pressure of >160 mmHg or diastolic pressure of >100 mmHg.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can help lower high blood pressure through simple diet changes. It promotes a reduction in total sodium intake, red meat, sweets, added sugars, and sugar-containing beverages.

The DASH eating plan follows heart healthy guidelines to limit saturated fat and cholesterol. It focuses on increasing intake of lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables. These foods are rich in nutrients that are expected to lower blood pressure such as fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

High blood pressure or hypertension is a repeatedly elevated blood pressure reading exceeding 140 over 90 mmHg. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood blood through the body. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage the body in many ways. High blood pressure is a potentially serious condition that can result in coronary heart disease, heart failure, kidney failure, stroke and other health problems.

If either your systolic or diastolic blood pressure is too high, you have high blood pressure. The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. Hypertension raises your risk of serious health problems like heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk.
High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, is classified by stages and is more serious as the numbers get higher. A blood pressure level of less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. A blood pressure level greater than 140/90, but less than 160/100 is considered stage 1 hypertension, requiring treatment. A blood pressure level greater than 160/90 is considered stage 2 hypertension.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a condition present when blood flows through the blood vessels with a force greater than normal. High blood pressure can strain the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, eye problems, and kidney problems.
Bijoy K. Khandheria, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Blood pressure is similar to pressure one encounters in water pipes.

The upper number is systolic, the lower number diastolic. As a blood vessel loses its elasticity - often with age - the systolic blood pressure increases.

There are also other reasons why a person may have elevated, or high, blood pressure - this is called secondary hypertension. Causes range from hormone disorders such as Cushing syndrome, to tumors such as pheochromocytoma where there is excessive secretion of adrenaline, to coarctation of the aorta where there is kinking of the main blood vessel, to disease afflicting the kidney.

Certain illegal drugs can also cause high blood pressure.

Primary, or essential, hypertension is the most common ailment. There are no known causes but factors such as sedentary lifestyle, smoking, sleep apnea and obesity are often associated with this disease.

Emilia Klapp
Nutrition & Dietetics
High blood pressure, or hypertension, means the heart is pounding faster than it should to send nutrients and oxygen through the blood vessels to the cells. In general, blood pressure is how forcefully the blood bangs against the walls of the arteries. With continuous high blood pressure, the heart works harder because the artery walls thicken, which reduces blood flow.
SCAI
Administration
Many studies have been performed to determine how blood pressure corresponds to risk for medical problems, such as heart attack or stroke. Your healthcare provider will measure the pressure in your arm to determine if your blood pressure is high - at a level that could increase your risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
Blood pressure is the amount of force that your blood exerts when it pushes against artery walls in your body. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart to the rest of your body. If blood travels through your arteries with too much pressure, it can damage the walls of the arteries and contribute to cardiovascular diseases that lead to heart attack, stroke and other complications.
When your blood pressure reading is taken, your doctor will give you two numbers: the top number is called the systolic number, and the bottom one is called the diastolic number. The systolic number tells you the pressure of blood on your artery walls during your heartbeat (when the heart pumps blood out of the heart). The diastolic number is the pressure on your arteries in between beats when the heart is relaxing and refilling with blood as it gets ready to pump again. The important thing to know is that only a reading at or below 120/80 mmHg is normal.
Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps out blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.

Often, high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. However, the condition can be detected using a simple test that involves placing a blood pressure cuff around your arm.

Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. Talk to your doctor about how often you should have your blood pressure checked. If you have high blood pressure, you will likely need to have your blood pressure checked more often.

Blood pressure normally rises with age and body size. Newborns often have very low blood pressure numbers, while older teens have numbers similar to adults.

The ranges for normal blood pressure and high blood pressure are generally lower for youth than for adults. These ranges are based on the average blood pressure numbers for age, gender, and height.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. Robert S. Kaufmann.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Each time the heart beats, it sends blood coursing through the arteries. The peak reading of the pressure exerted by this contraction is the systolic pressure. Between beats the heart relaxes, and blood pressure drops. This lower reading is referred to as the diastolic pressure. Blood pressure readings are in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). A normal blood pressure reading for adults is 120 (systolic)/80 (diastolic). Readings above this level are a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure readings can be divided into the following levels
Prehypertension (120-139//0-89) 

Borderline (120-160/90-94)

Mild (140-160/95-104)

Moderate (140-180/105-114)
Severe (160-/115_)
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Daphne Goldberg
Family Medicine
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a medical condition that is diagnosed when your blood pressure is measured to be greater than 140/90 on two or more occasions. High blood pressure affects 50 million Americans, or one in every four adults. Furthermore, more than half of all Americans over age 65 have hypertension.
Hypertension usually has no symptoms and is considered a silent condition. Occasionally, someone with high blood pressure can experience headaches, confusion, nausea, and visual disturbance or in extreme rare cases even seizures.
Most people with high blood pressure have essential (or primary) hypertension. Essential hypertension accounts for 95% of all cases of high blood pressure. Essential hypertension has no known cause but is likely due to combination of factors such as genetics, insulin resistance and obesity. Secondary hypertension is due to known causes and accounts for 5% of all cases of high blood pressure. These causes include kidney disease, obstructive sleep apnea, heavy alcohol use, certain medications like long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and certain street drugs like cocaine.
Risk factors for developing hypertension include having a family history of high blood pressure, alcohol abuse, high salt intake, an inactive lifestyle, and being overweight.
William D. Knopf, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Hypertension is also called high blood pressure, it is having blood pressure greater than 140 over 90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Long-term high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and organs, including the heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain.
This answer from the National Women's Health Information Center has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

Continue Learning about Hypertension

Hypertension

Hypertension

Clinically known as hypertension, high blood pressure can cause a host of problems if left untreated. The most common type of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure causes our hearts to work harder by forcing blood to push ag...

ainst the walls of our arteries at an elevated level. Hypertension is the leading cause of strokes and heart attack. It also increases your risk of having heart and kidney failure and hardening of the arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.