High Blood Pressure

Overview


Did you know that your blood pressure can be a good indicator of your heart’s health?

High blood pressure is actually a leading risk factor for heart disease and early death. It’s sometimes called the “silent killer” because many people don’t know they have it, yet it can do a lot of harm. At your next health checkup, when your health care provider puts a cuff around your arm to take your blood pressure, be sure to ask about your numbers.

If you already have high blood pressure, the good news is that even small reductions in your blood pressure can help protect your cardiovascular health, and as a result help prevent heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard your blood pushes against your arteries as it moves through your body.

Blood pressure rises and falls naturally during the day. But if it stays too high, over time it can lead to health problems. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.

Facts About High Blood Pressure

  • Nearly 1 in 2 adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure, according to ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines released in November 2017.
  • It’s one of the top risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke—which together are the leading cause of death—and chronic kidney disease.
  • It is usually very treatable.

Why Blood Pressure Matters

Blood pressure can affect your body in many ways. Untreated, high blood pressure increases the strain on the heart and arteries, and it can eventually lead to: 

  • blood vessel damage (atherosclerosis)
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • heart failure
  • kidney failure
  • eye damage


Often, there may be no signs or symptoms that tell you when your blood pressure is too high. Not surprisingly, the higher it is, the more likely you are to have these problems. The good news: High blood pressure can be treated or even prevented.

What Do Your Numbers Mean?

Blood pressure is given as two numbers. You’ve probably heard your health care provider say something like “130 over 80.” So what do these numbers mean?

  • Systolic, the top number, is the pressure or force in the arteries when the heart pumps. When the heart contracts, the pressure in the arteries rises.
  • Diastolic, the bottom number, is the pressure in the vessels when the heart relaxes between heartbeats.

These numbers are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). According to new ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines released in November 2017, high blood pressure is now defined as a systolic blood pressure (higher number) above 130 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure (lower number) above 80 mmHg, or both. You can have high blood pressure even if just one of the numbers is above what it should be.

If you have a systolic blood pressure from 120-129 mmHg, and your diastolic blood pressure is less than 80 mmHg, then your blood pressure is elevated.

Blood Pressure Classifications

blood pressure

Even if your blood pressure is only slightly elevated, you need to take it seriously. Blood pressure measures that are close to the cutoff for having hypertension can serve as a red flag that it’s time to step up efforts to prevent high blood pressure.

Talk with your health care team about learning how to check and track your blood pressure over time.

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Updated: November 2017 | Published: June 2016
Editorial Team Lead: Keith C. Ferdinand, MD, FACC, FAHA
Medical Reviewer: John D. Bisognano, MD, PhD, FACC

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