Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Blood pressure (B/P) is the pressure of the blood against the inside walls of the arteries (blood vessels that carry blood to the body). It is produced primarily by the contraction (squeezing) of the heart muscle. Two numbers record the blood pressure measurement. The first measurement is called the systolic pressure (SBP) and is measured after the heart contracts (squeezes) and is at the highest pressure. The second measurement is known as the diastolic pressure (DBP) and is measured before the heart contracts (squeezes) and is at the lowest pressure.

Hypertension is a condition in which the force of blood against the artery walls is too strong so your blood pressure is higher than normal. High blood pressure in adults is when the systolic blood pressure (SBP or top number) is higher than 139 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). You may also have high blood pressure when your diastolic blood pressure (DBP or bottom number) is higher than 89 mmHg. This is based on the average of two or more BP readings taken by your doctor.

These numbers are used for an adult who is not ill or on blood pressure medicine. Children and young adults with high BP readings may also have hypertension.

If hypertension is not controlled, it can damage blood vessels and cause problems like heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, peripheral vascular disease and kidney disease. 

Types of Hypertension

There are two types of chronic (long term) hypertension:


This is the most common type of hypertension. The cause is not known and there are usually no signs or symptoms. Obesity (being very overweight) or increased salt in your diet may lead to this condition, as can being inactive or under stress. Many people do not know they have hypertension until their blood pressure is checked. You are more likely to have hypertension if you have family members or relatives with it. Essential hypertension occurs mostly in people 20 years of age and older.


This type of hypertension occurs as a result of other medical conditions. You may have mild to moderate signs and symptoms. Your doctor will do tests and watch you closely if you have this condition. Children with high BP readings usually have secondary hypertension.

Medical conditions that can contribute to this type of hypertension are:

  • Diseases or problems with your thyroid gland, adrenal glands, or kidneys including narrowing of the artery that supplies the kidney.
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels (arteries that feed your heart), also known as atherosclerosis.
  • Abusing drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine/crack, and nicotine.
  • Being around certain chemicals, such as lead or mercury.
  • Drinking alcohol, using too much salt, and eating licorice.
  • Medicines, such as steroids, birth control pills and aspirin. Using herbal medicines such as ma huang, or cough or cold medicines
  • Pre eclampsia (a condition that can develop in pregnancy).
  • Acute pain.
  • Acute stress.

Stages of Hypertension


Category Systolic BP
(SBP or top number)
Diastolic BP
(DBP or bottom number)
Normal  less than 120  less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
Hypertension, Stage 1 140-159 90-99
Hypertension, Stage 2 160 or greater 100 or greater

Risk Factors

The higher your BP, the more you are at risk of having a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or kidney disease. Major risk factors for hypertension include:

  • Stress
  • Cigarette or tobacco smoking.
  • Diseases, such as diabetes (high amount of sugar in your blood), high cholesterol, kidney disease, or microalbuminuria (proteins in the urine).
  • Family history of a cardiovascular disease occurring at an early age.
  • Men over 55 years of age, and women over 65 years of age.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Having a high body mass index (BMI).  The BMI is the relationship between your height and weight, which directly correlates to your body fat contained within your body.  The BMI can be an indicator of the health risks you may face.
  • Being African-American, Hispanic, Latino, or Native American.
  • Eating a diet that contains a high amount of salt.
  • Drinking too much alcohol too often.

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