Blood Pressure & Hypertension: Frequently Asked Questions

What is blood pressure?  

The heart pumps blood to all parts of your body. Each time your heart beats, it pushes blood against the walls of your blood vessels. A blood pressure measures the amount of pressure against the walls. We write a blood pressure (BP) as two numbers.

The larger number is the systolic pressure. It is the highest pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is pumping.

The smaller number is the diastolic pressure. It is the lowest pressure in tithe blood vessels when the heart is resting between beats.

We write a blood pressure like this: 140/90. We say 140 over 90.

What is a high blood pressure for adults?  

Blood pressure changes from minute to minute. Age, time of day, exercise, smoking, emotions, pain, and medicines are just a few of the things that cause blood pressure to change. It is best too have a health care worker take a few blood pressure readings over several days in order to confirm a diagnosis of high blood pressure.

An adult has high blood pressure (called hypertension) if most of the time the systolic blood pressure is over 139, or the diastolic blood pressure is over 89, or both numbers are over 139/89.

An adult has prehypertension if most of the time the systolic blood pressures stay between 120 and 139, or diastolic pressures stay between 80 and 89, or both numbers remain in this range. Prehypertension may lead to high blood pressure and should be checked often.

If you have had heart problems, kidney problems, or a stroke your doctor may want your blood pressure to be lower than people who have not had these health problems. Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should babe and how often to check it.

What causes high blood pressure? 

Many times we don’t know what causes high blood pressure. We call this type of high blood pressure, essential hypertension.

Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure caused by things such as:

  • Eating too much salt
  • Being overweight
  • Stress Anxiety
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Smoking
  • Steroids
  • Cocaine use
  • Thyroid problems
  • Cold medicines
  • Diabetes
  • Birth control pills
  • Migraine medicines

How will I know if my blood pressure is getting higher? 

Most of the time, people do not have symptoms to let them know their blood pressure is high. The best way to know if your blood pressure is getting higher is to have it checked often. But some people might feel:

  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Confused
  • Tired
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Nosebleed
  • Visual changes
  • Buzzing in the ears

If you feel these symptoms, see a doctor right away.

If you check your blood pressure at home, your doctor may want to know your last blood pressure reading and the one before that. Your doctor may ask you what are the usual top and bottom numbers and if your blood pressure has been higher than usual recently.

What can I do to control my blood pressure? 

Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, and early death.

Most of the time, hypertension can be controlled with blood pressure medicine and some changes in lifestyle. Things you can do to help control your blood pressure: 

  • Eat a heart healthy diet.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day 5 to 7 days a week. You can split your exercise into three 10-minute sessions each day. 
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit the salt you eat. 
  • Avoid things that cause you stress.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Losing just 10 pounds often can lower your blood pressure some, improve the effects of blood pressure medicines, and reduce some of the other risk factors such as diabetes and high cholesterol.

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Last Updated: 06-24-2014
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.