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What is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?

Updated on August 20, 2011

What is blood pressure?

Everyone has blood pressure – it is the force that the blood exerts on the walls of the arteries as blood as is pumped through the body.

There are two types of blood pressure, a systolic blood pressure and a diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure exerted when the heart is pumping blood out of the heart around the body. Diastolic pressure, is the pressure exerted when the heart is at rest (between beats) and being filled with blood.

Blood pressure readings are expressed as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. For example, 120/80 or lower is typically classed as normal blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure (or hypertension) is often a “silent” disease with no symptoms. You generally do not feel unwell if you have high blood pressure. If left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels, which can lead to complications such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney damage and eye damage.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

High blood pressure occurs when a person’s blood pressure is consistently elevated above accepted levels. A doctor will generally take readings on at least two separate occasions before classifying a person as having high blood pressure. The table below shows the classifications of blood pressure, from the National Institutes of Health.

Blood Pressure 
120/80 or lower 
Normal blood pressure 
140/90 or higher 
High blood pressure 

Patients in the “pre-hypertension” category will often go on to develop high blood pressure, unless preventative measures are taken to try and reduce their blood pressure.

How is high blood pressure managed?

High blood pressure is managed with lifestyle interventions and the use of medications. Controlling blood pressure effectively is incredibly important in improving the life expectancy of patients with high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes that can help reduce blood pressure include the following:

  • Reducing salt intake
  • Reducing fat in diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Reducing stress

What can I do to help manage my high blood pressure?

In addition to taking the measures described above, take the medications your doctor prescribes you as instructed. Even though you won’t feel any different, it is still important to take your medication every day! Be alert for any side effects; ask your pharmacist what to look out for. If you are experiencing side effects, let your doctor know as soon as possible as there are many medications that can be used to treat high blood pressure, so it is a matter of finding which medications work best for you. You may also want to consider purchasing a blood pressure monitor, so you can take your own blood pressure readings. Record these, and then take them with you to your doctor appointments so they can see how well the medications are working for you.

High blood pressure is a condition that generally gets worse, not better with age, so regular monitoring is needed. The important thing to remember is that it can be managed well, it is just up to you to take control of your condition as best as you can.


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