High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension)

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What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as high pressure (tension) in the arteries, which are the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers. The systolic blood pressure (the top number) equals the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80; blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called "pre-hypertension," and a blood pressure of 140/90 or above is considered high while a systolic blood pressure of about 90 to 100 is considered low blood pressure.

Complications of high blood pressure include heart disease, kidney (renal) disease, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis), eye damage, and stroke (brain damage).

Hypertension is a major public health problem. The American Heart Association estimates high blood pressure affects approximately one in three adults in the United States, or about 76.4 million people.

What causes high blood pressure?

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The causes of hypertension are multifactorial, meaning there are several factors whose combined effects produce hypertension.

  • High salt intake or salt sensitivity: This occurs in certain populations such as the elderly, African Americans, people who are obese, or people with kidney (renal) problems.
  • Genetic predisposition to high blood pressure: People who have one or two parents with hypertension have high blood pressure incidence about twice as high as the general population.
  • A particular abnormality of the arteries, which results in an increased resistance (stiffness or lack of elasticity) in the tiny arteries (arterioles): This increased peripheral arteriolar stiffness develops in individuals who are also obese, do not exercise, have high salt intake, and are older.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2014

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High Blood Pressure - Diet Question: Have you changed your diet to try to bring down your high blood pressure?
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High Blood Pressure - Causes Question: Do you know if genetic factors, high salt intake, or arterial stiffness caused your high blood pressure?

High Blood Pressure Treatment

Other dietary considerations

It is beneficial to add potassium to the diet. Studies show that people who consume more potassium have lower blood pressures. Good sources of potassium include:

  • bananas,
  • melons,
  • oranges,
  • spinach and
  • zucchini.

Along with lowering salt in the diet, a balanced eating plan that also reduces cholesterol intake and fatty foods is recommended. The TLC Diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) often is recommended to lower blood cholesterol.