High Blood Pressure

What is high blood pressure? A condition in which the blood pressure has increased to levels that are unhealthily high.

Blood Pressure Readings

There are two numbers in a blood pressure reading, called systolic pressure and diastolic pressure:

The first/top number in a blood pressure reading is systolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the pressure of the arteries when the heart is contracting. It's usually a higher number because the heart is pumping blood into the arteries as it contracts.

The second/bottom number in a blood pressure reading is diastolic pressure. Diastolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is relaxed, in between beats.

Types of High Blood Pressure

There are two types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary.

Primary (also called essential) high blood pressure is more common. Most people with high blood pressure develop primary high blood pressure over time, due to the natural aging process.

Secondary high blood pressure is a result of another condition, or it can result from some medications. Secondary high blood pressure can be treated by changing the medications, or by treating the medical condition causing the high blood pressure.


For most people with hypertension, there are no symptoms or warning signs about their condition. A healthcare provider can check blood pressure and use that to determine whether a patient has high blood pressure. It's important to check for high blood pressure because high blood pressure is a risk factor for a number of conditions, including heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. It may be useful to have a yearly or twice yearly checkup to have blood pressure checked regularly.

For patients with severe hypertension, certain symptoms can arise, such as headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, and dizziness. If hypertension is severe enough to cause symptoms, you should get immediate medical attention.

Checking for high blood pressure during pregnancy is also important. While women with hypertension can still go through pregnancy and childbirth safely, they are at higher risk for complications. Pregnant women with hypertension, in some cases, develop a condition called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia can cause problems with the kidneys, liver, and other organs. If preeclampsia worsens, it can lead to eclampsia, which is a serious condition. Eclampsia can cause seizures and, in rare cases, it can be fatal.

Pregnant women with high blood pressure are closely monitored during the pregnancy, though hypertension often returns to healthier levels after childbirth, because the only way to treat preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. High blood pressure during pregnancy also increases the risk of high blood pressure later in life.

Causes and Risk Factors

The causes of high blood pressure include:

  • Growing old,
  • Pregnancy,
  • Diabetes,
  • And obesity.

Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as lack of exercise can also cause high blood pressure.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Lack of exercise,
  • Smoking,
  • drinking too much alcohol,
  • A diet high in sodium or low in potassium,
  • Having a family history of hypertension, and
  • being overweight or obese.

Older people are also at higher risk for high blood pressure. Race and gender can be risk factors for high blood pressure as well: it is more common for African American adults to have high blood pressure, men are also at higher risk for this condition until 55 when women are at higher risk for hypertension.


Regular blood pressure readings can help catch high blood pressure early, which helps prevent the condition from worsening or leading to further complications. Hypertension can also be prevented using a healthy diet which is low in sugar, and high in fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a healthy weight or weight loss can also help prevent high blood pressure from developing as well, because being overweight can put a person at higher risk for high blood pressure.


Holistic: there are lifestyle changes that a person can make as part of their treatment for high blood pressure. Regular exercise, stress management, a healthy diet, reducing alcohol and not smoking cigarettes can help prevent hypertension.

Medical: There are multiple types of medications for hypertension, they treat the issue with different mechanisms. Some medications slow the heartbeat, some relax and dilate the blood vessel. Other types of medications remove salt and extra fluid from the body. A few examples of high blood pressure medications include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, Calcium channel blockers, and Beta-blockers. Many patients need to take more than one medication for high blood pressure.