Learn more about our Patient Engagement products now! Turn your patients into active participants in their healthcare by giving them easy access to the same evidence-based information you trust – but delivered in an easy-to-understand format.

 Hypertension, Adult

Hypertension, Adult

High blood pressure (hypertension) is when the force of blood pumping through the arteries is too strong. The arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body. Hypertension forces the heart to work harder to pump blood and may cause arteries to become narrow or stiff. Untreated or uncontrolled hypertension can cause a heart attack, heart failure, a stroke, kidney disease, and other problems.

A blood pressure reading consists of a higher number over a lower number. Ideally, your blood pressure should be below 120/80. The first ("top") number is called the systolic pressure. It is a measure of the pressure in your arteries as your heart beats. The second ("bottom") number is called the diastolic pressure. It is a measure of the pressure in your arteries as the heart relaxes.

What are the causes?

The exact cause of this condition is not known. There are some conditions that result in or are related to high blood pressure.

What increases the risk?

Some risk factors for high blood pressure are under your control. The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:
  • Smoking.
  • Having type 2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, or both.
  • Not getting enough exercise or physical activity.
  • Being overweight.
  • Having too much fat, sugar, calories, or salt (sodium) in your diet.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.

Some risk factors for high blood pressure may be difficult or impossible to change. Some of these factors include:
  • Having chronic kidney disease.
  • Having a family history of high blood pressure.
  • Age. Risk increases with age.
  • Race. You may be at higher risk if you are African American.
  • Gender. Men are at higher risk than women before age 45. After age 65, women are at higher risk than men.
  • Having obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Stress.

What are the signs or symptoms?

High blood pressure may not cause symptoms. Very high blood pressure (hypertensive crisis) may cause:
  • Headache.
  • Anxiety.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nosebleed.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Vision changes.
  • Severe chest pain.
  • Seizures.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed by measuring your blood pressure while you are seated, with your arm resting on a flat surface, your legs uncrossed, and your feet flat on the floor. The cuff of the blood pressure monitor will be placed directly against the skin of your upper arm at the level of your heart. It should be measured at least twice using the same arm. Certain conditions can cause a difference in blood pressure between your right and left arms.

Certain factors can cause blood pressure readings to be lower or higher than normal for a short period of time:
  • When your blood pressure is higher when you are in a health care provider's office than when you are at home, this is called white coat hypertension. Most people with this condition do not need medicines.
  • When your blood pressure is higher at home than when you are in a health care provider's office, this is called masked hypertension. Most people with this condition may need medicines to control blood pressure.

If you have a high blood pressure reading during one visit or you have normal blood pressure with other risk factors, you may be asked to:
  • Return on a different day to have your blood pressure checked again.
  • Monitor your blood pressure at home for 1 week or longer.

If you are diagnosed with hypertension, you may have other blood or imaging tests to help your health care provider understand your overall risk for other conditions.

How is this treated?

This condition is treated by making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy foods, exercising more, and reducing your alcohol intake. Your health care provider may prescribe medicine if lifestyle changes are not enough to get your blood pressure under control, and if:
  • Your systolic blood pressure is above 130.
  • Your diastolic blood pressure is above 80.

Your personal target blood pressure may vary depending on your medical conditions, your age, and other factors.

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Eat a diet that is high in fiber and potassium, and low in sodium, added sugar, and fat. An example eating plan is called the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. To eat this way:
    • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Try to fill one half of your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables.
    • Eat whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, or whole-grain bread. Fill about one fourth of your plate with whole grains.
    • Eat or drink low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk or low-fat yogurt.
    • Avoid fatty cuts of meat, processed or cured meats, and poultry with skin. Fill about one fourth of your plate with lean proteins, such as fish, chicken without skin, beans, eggs, or tofu.
    • Avoid pre-made and processed foods. These tend to be higher in sodium, added sugar, and fat.
  • Reduce your daily sodium intake. Most people with hypertension should eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
  • Do not drink alcohol if:
    • Your health care provider tells you not to drink.
    • You are pregnant, may be pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant.
  • If you drink alcohol:
    • Limit how much you use to:
      • 0–1 drink a day for women.
      • 0–2 drinks a day for men.
    • Be aware of how much alcohol is in your drink. In the U.S., one drink equals one 12 oz bottle of beer (355 mL), one 5 oz glass of wine (148 mL), or one 1½ oz glass of hard liquor (44 mL).


  • Work with your health care provider to maintain a healthy body weight or to lose weight. Ask what an ideal weight is for you.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Activities may include walking, swimming, or biking.
  • Include exercise to strengthen your muscles (resistance exercise), such as Pilates or lifting weights, as part of your weekly exercise routine. Try to do these types of exercises for 30 minutes at least 3 days a week.
  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Monitor your blood pressure at home as told by your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.


  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider. Follow directions carefully. Blood pressure medicines must be taken as prescribed.
  • Do not skip doses of blood pressure medicine. Doing this puts you at risk for problems and can make the medicine less effective.
  • Ask your health care provider about side effects or reactions to medicines that you should watch for.

Contact a health care provider if you:

  • Think you are having a reaction to a medicine you are taking.
  • Have headaches that keep coming back (recurring).
  • Feel dizzy.
  • Have swelling in your ankles.
  • Have trouble with your vision.

Get help right away if you:

  • Develop a severe headache or confusion.
  • Have unusual weakness or numbness.
  • Feel faint.
  • Have severe pain in your chest or abdomen.
  • Vomit repeatedly.
  • Have trouble breathing.


  • Hypertension is when the force of blood pumping through your arteries is too strong. If this condition is not controlled, it may put you at risk for serious complications.
  • Your personal target blood pressure may vary depending on your medical conditions, your age, and other factors. For most people, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
  • Hypertension is treated with lifestyle changes, medicines, or a combination of both. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, eating a healthy, low-sodium diet, exercising more, and limiting alcohol.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.