Nurse with blonde hair taking blood pressure of woman with pink scarf who is sitting down.

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood to your body.

Blood pressure readings are given as 2 numbers. The top number is called the systolic pressure. It is the highest pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is pumping. The bottom number is called the diastolic pressure. It is the lowest pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is resting between beats.

Blood pressure is usually written like this: 140/90. You may hear it said as “140 over 90.”

Blood pressure ranges are:

  • 119/79 or lower is normal blood pressure
  • 120/80 to 139/89 is prehypertension
  • 140/90 or higher is high blood pressure

Prehypertension means that you may develop high blood pressure but you can prevent it with healthy lifestyle changes.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, that stays high over time can lead to serious problems including:

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

You can have high blood pressure for years without knowing it, because it usually has no signs or symptoms. Rarely, symptoms occur only in people in hypertensive crisis (extremely high blood pressure of higher than 180/110). These symptoms include:

  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in your chest, neck or ears
  • Nose bleeds

The best way to find out whether you have high blood pressure is to have it checked at least every 2 years, starting at age 18, as part of your routine checkup.

High Blood Pressure Risk Factors

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 can cause blood pressure to change.

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

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating too much salt in your diet
  • Not having enough potassium in your diet
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Stress
  • Ethnic background: high blood pressure is more common in African-Americans
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • Age

High Blood Pressure Diagnosis

Your care provider may detect your high blood pressure during your regular checkups. At Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, we perform further testing to find the causes of your high blood pressure and to check for possible organ damage. Among the tests your care provider may recommend are:

Most of the time, high blood pressure can be controlled with blood pressure medicine and some changes in lifestyle. We will work with you to get you on the right track with a plan of action to keep you healthy. We may recommend: