High Blood Pressure

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, which is also called hypertension, means that blood is pumping too hard through the blood vessels. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers; the top number is called systolic and the bottom number is diastolic. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 for systolic and less than 80 for diastolic. If your numbers are higher than that, you may have high blood pressure. Most times, people with high blood pressure do not feel sick. After a doctor checks your blood pressure and determines your blood pressure is elevated or high, they may make recommendations that include diet modification, exercise, and or medication(s).

Why managing high blood pressure is important?

It is important to manage your high blood pressure, as recommended by your doctor, to decrease your risk of kidney failure, stroke, heart problems, and heart disease. High blood pressure is a challenge for the Black community as over half of all Black men and women have high blood pressure. Managing your blood pressure early can help keep your blood pressure down and prevent other health issues.

What causes high blood pressure?

There are lots of factors that contribute to high blood pressure. A few things that can increase blood pressure are:

  • Not getting physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Not taking your medicine as prescribed
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating too much salt
  • Not eating enough potassium
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not sleeping well
  • Pollution and noise
  • Unmanaged stress
  • Being older
  • Other medical problems like thyroid issues or kidney disease

How is blood pressure checked?

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The doctor or nurse uses a blood pressure cuff on your upper arm. The doctor or nurse will wrap the cuff around your arm and the arm cuff inflates to begin reading your blood pressure. Then they slowly let the air out and listen with a stethoscope. They write down the top number when the first heartbeat is heard, and the bottom number when the sounds stop. The two numbers make up your blood pressure reading. Doctors and nurses may also use an electronic blood pressure monitor to measure your blood pressure. They may ask to take your blood pressure more than once and take an average of the blood pressure readings.

What do the blood pressure readings mean?

Blood pressure readings have two numbers. The top number is called the systolic pressure. This measures how hard your heart pumps blood through your body. The bottom number is called the diastolic pressure. This measures how relaxed your heart is when it fills with blood. The American Heart Association says we should take at least two readings each time we check our blood pressure.

What are the Blood Pressure Categories?

The American Heart Association puts blood pressure into five groups: normal, elevated, hypertension stage 1, hypertension stage 2, and malignant hypertension. The chart below tells what each group means.

Back to our example:

An example of a measurement is 145/93.

  • If your reading was 145/93, that would be in the Hypertension Stage 2 group.

Other modules will discuss ways to lower blood pressure, but here are some things you can do to help lower your blood pressure:

  • Exercise like walking, running, swimming, or playing sports
  • Eat healthy foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains and low-fat dairy
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Eat foods low in fat
  • Do not use tobacco products
  • Take your prescribed hypertension medication as recommended
  • Sleep 8 hours each night
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation

It’s important to talk to your doctor about your high blood pressure. Ask them questions like:

  • Should I check my blood pressure at home?
  • When should I call you if it’s high?
  • What else can I do to lower it?

High Blood Pressure Quiz

High blood pressure always has symptoms.
Blood pressure is high when it is at or over 140/90 mm Hg.
Is high blood pressure called a “silent killer?”
According to the American Heart Association, there are four blood pressure categories: normal, elevated, hypertension stage 1, and hypertension stage 3.


What is High Blood Pressure? (heart.org)
Tsao, C. W., Aday, A. W., Almarzooq, Z. I., Anderson, C. A. M., Arora, P., Avery, C. L., Baker-Smith, C. M., Beaton, A. Z., Boehme, A. K., Buxton, A. E., Commodore-Mensah, Y., Elkind, M. S. V., Evenson, K. R., Eze-Nliam, C., Fugar, S., Generoso, G., Heard, D. G., Hiremath, S., Ho, J. E., Kalani, R., … American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee (2023). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2023 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 147(8), e93–e621.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.

What is blood pressure and how is it measured? – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf

Health Threats from High Blood Pressure | American Heart Association

How to Measure Blood Pressure