What is high blood pressure?

GEHA | August 17, 2018

heart health high blood pressure
Learn more about what are the health effects of high blood pressure and what do the blood pressure numbers mean.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing on the walls of your arteries. When your blood pressure stays elevated for a sustained period of time, it can cause serious health issues and damage your heart.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer” because it often will not show any symptoms before resulting in another serious health issue, like stroke or heart disease. Close to one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, but many are unaware of it. The only way to know if you have hypertension is to regularly measure your blood pressure. Adults with high blood pressure or prehypertension should have their blood pressure checked every year or more often by their health care provider.


What are the health effects of high blood pressure?

Untreated high blood pressure can seriously damage your health. It results in hardened arteries, which restrict the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. This restriction can result in heart attack and heart failure, a condition where your heart does not pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs.

Untreated high blood pressure can also disrupt the flow of oxygen to the brain, which may result in a stroke. Stroke can lead to death or disability in speech and movement.

People with diabetes, hypertension or both have an increased risk of developing kidney disease. Close to one in five adults with hypertension also has chronic kidney disease.


What do blood pressure numbers mean?

The top number in your blood pressure measurement is called systolic pressure. It measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.

The bottom number is diastolic pressure. It measures the pressure in your blood vessels between heart beats, when your heart is at rest.

The chart below reflects current guidelines for blood pressure categories, according to the American Heart Association.

  Systolic Diastolic
 Normal less than 120  and less than 80
 Elevated 120-129 and less than 80
 Hypertension stage 1 130-139 or 80-89
 Hypertension stage 2 140 or higher or 90 or higher
 Hypertensive crisis higher than 180 and/or higher than 120



Sources:
“Effects of High Blood Pressure.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 July 2014.
“How to Prevent High Blood Pressure: MedlinePlus.” MedlinePlus Trusted Health Information for You.
“Measuring High Blood Pressure.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Oct. 2017.
“Understanding Blood Pressure Readings.” American Heart Association.