High Blood Pressure
Common but Controllable Disorder
You may be surprised if your doctor says you have high blood
pressure (HBP) because it does not cause symptoms and you can have
it even though you feel fine. But HBP is a serious condition that
can lead to stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, and other health
problems. The good news is that there are simple ways to control
What Is HBP?
As blood flows from the heart out to the blood vessels, it
creates pressure against the blood vessel walls. Your blood pressure
reading is a measure of this pressure. When that reading goes above
a certain point, it is called high blood pressure. Hypertension is
another name for HBP.
As many as 50 million Americans may
have HBP. Among people age 65 and older, about 40 percent of Whites
and 50 percent of Blacks have HBP.
How Is It Tested?
To test blood pressure, a doctor or nurse places a cuff around
your arm above the elbow, pumps air into the cuff, and then reads
the measurements as the air is let out. The test is painless and
takes only a few minutes.
Your blood pressure measurement
may be taken several times. You may be asked to stand one time and
sit another. If your blood pressure is high the first day, the
doctor will want measurements from different days before deciding
whether you really have high blood pressure. These steps are needed
because blood pressure changes so quickly. Also, it is affected by
many things, including the normal feelings of worry during a visit
to the doctor.
Because HBP is so common, everyone should
have his or her blood pressure tested once a year. Blood pressure
readings are given in two numbers. Although the average blood
pressure reading for adults is 120/80, a slightly higher or lower
reading (for either number) may not be a problem. If blood pressure
goes above 140/90, however, some form of treatment diet or drugs may
be needed. Lower blood pressure readings (for example, 110/70) are
thought to be safe for most people.
What If Just The First Number is High?
Often in older adults the first number (the upper or systolic
number) is high while the second (the lower or diastolic) number is
normal. This condition is called isolated systolic hypertension, and
it also should be treated. Studies prove that lowering the systolic
number cuts down on strokes and heart attacks in people age 60 and
What Causes HBP?
Some cases of HBP are caused by other illnesses. This kind of HBP
is called secondary hypertension, and it is often cured once the
original medical problem is cured. Most HBP, however, is essential
or primary hypertension. This kind cannot be cured but can be kept
under control by regular, ongoing treatment.
that many things combine to cause HBP. Being overweight, drinking
too much alcohol, and eating too much salt are risk factors because
they raise your risk of having HBP. They do not cause it directly.
Blood pressure goes up in all people during periods of
stress or exercise. But avoiding stress will not prevent high blood
pressure. You can have HBP even though you are usually a calm,
How Is HBP Treated?
If you have mild HBP, your doctor may suggest that you lose
weight and keep it off, eat less salt, cut down on alcohol, and get
more exercise. You may bring your blood pressure down simply by
following this advice. Even if medicine is needed, these daily
habits may help it work better.
Some people think that when
their blood pressure comes down, they no longer need treatment. If
your doctor has prescribed medicine, you may have to take it for the
rest of your life. Later on, though, you may be able to take less of
Can HBP Be Prevented?
There is now good evidence that HBP can be prevented in many
people. The keys to prevention are:
- Keeping your weight moderate;
- Cutting down on salt;
- Exercising regularly; and
- If you drink, having no more than two drinks a day.
- HBP may not make you feel sick, but it is serious and should
be treated by a doctor.
- You can bring down your blood pressure with changes in diet
and daily habits and by taking medicines if necessary.
- Losing weight, cutting down on salt and alcohol, and getting
regular exercise may be helpful, but only as suggested by your
doctor. Do not assume these are substitutes for medicine unless
your doctor says they are.
- If one day’s dose of medicine is missed, do not double up the
next day. Instead, call your doctor for advice.
- Take your medicine at the same time each day-for example, in
the morning or evening after brushing teeth to help set a regular,
easy to remember routine.
For more information on HBP, contact:
Heart, Lung, and Blood Information Center
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
information about health and aging, including nutrition, exercise,
and smoking, contact:
The National Institute on Aging
P.O. Box 8057
National Institute on Aging
U. S. Department
of Health and Human Services
Public Health Service
Institutes of Health