50 million Americans have elevated blood pressure or hypertension (systolic blood pressure greater than 140 and/or diastolic blood pressure greater than 90).  Many people are unaware of their high blood pressure because they have no symptoms.

Hypertension increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and heart failure.


Normal blood pressure                     < 120 / 80

Pre-hypertension                               120-139 / 81-89

Hypertension                                     >140 / 90

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

Most people with hypertension have no symptoms.  Blood pressure may be elevated for a number of years before it is identified.  Symptoms such as headache, dizziness, blurred vision, shortness of breath or swelling in legs may be associated with elevated blood pressure.

What causes hypertension?

Most patients with hypertension have no identifiable cause for their hypertension.  Only 5% of patients will have medical conditions such as thyroid, kidney, or hormonal problems causing their elevated blood pressure.

What can I do if my blood pressure is high or borderline high?

Lifestyle modifications can help reduce blood pressure.  Losing weight (even 5-10 pounds) can improve blood pressure.  Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, and low in saturated and total fats can reduce blood pressure up to 10-15 points.  Limiting salt in the diet and limiting alcohol to no more than 2 drinks pre day for men and 1 drink pre day for women is recommended.  Regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure.  Cigarette smoking has been shown to raise blood pressure, so now is the time to quit. Making changes in your lifestyle can prevent hypertension.

If blood pressure is not controlled with lifestyle changes, medications may be required.  Often, diuretics or water pills are considered as first line therapy, but there are many different types of blood pressure medications.

Why should high blood pressure be treated?

Elevated blood pressures increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and overall mortality.

For more information on high blood pressure guidelines, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/index.htm.