An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of high blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Measurements
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The higher number is the systolic blood pressure, the pressure in your arteries while your heart is pumping blood. The lower number is the diastolic blood pressure, the pressure when your heart is relaxing and refilling with blood between beats. For adults:
- Normal blood pressure readings are below 120/80 mm Hg.
- High blood pressure (hypertension) is generally considered to be a blood pressure reading greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg (systolic) or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg (diastolic).
- Blood pressure readings in the prehypertension category (120 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic) indicate an increased risk for developing hypertension.
- A blood pressure reading below 140/90 mm Hg should be the minimum goal for most people. People with certain health conditions (diabetes) may benefit from a lower target goal.
- For elderly people, the risks of medication side effects need to be weighed against the benefits of achieving ideal blood pressure goals.
- Goals for various populations are constantly being revised as new information is gained from research studies. Your provider can help give you the most appropriate goal.
Home Blood Pressure Monitoring
Most people with high blood pressure will benefit from monitoring their blood pressure at home on a regular basis. Home monitoring can help show if blood pressure medications are working or if they need to be adjusted.
Lifestyle Changes and High Blood Pressure
Lifestyle changes are important for preventing and treating high blood pressure. They include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than one or two drinks a day
- Reducing sodium (salt) intake in your diet
The DASH diet is a plan proven to improve blood pressure.
Medications for High Blood Pressure
Drug treatment for high blood pressure is tailored to the individual. There are many different types of blood pressure medications. Although some people need only one drug to control blood pressure, many patients require at least two medications.
Blood pressure measurements can fluctuate throughout the day and in different environments. The decision to start or increase blood pressure medications should not be based on a single blood pressure reading.
To obtain the most accurate estimate of your true blood pressure, your doctor will use an average of multiple readings. These may include repeated readings made in the doctor's office as well as blood pressure measurements you performed at home.