High blood pressure or hypertension is a common condition in which the force of blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke or kidney failure.

Nearly one in three adults in the United States is living with high blood pressure. It's called the "silent killer" because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. In fact, you can have high blood pressure for years without even knowing it. Even though you are not experiencing any symptoms, high blood pressure can still be damaging your heart, blood vessels, kidneys and other parts of your body. That's why it's important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. The good news is that you can take action to prevent high blood pressure or control it if it is already high.


Blood pressure is measured in two numbers: systolic and diastolic.  Systolic pressure is the pressure your blood exerts on your blood vessels when the heart beats.  Diastolic pressure is the pressure left in the vessels when the heart is at rest. You will most often see blood pressure written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHg. 

Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults


Systolic (mmHg)


Diastolic (mmHg)


Less than 120


Less than 80





Stage 1 Hypertension




Stage 2 Hypertension

160 or greater


100 or greater



There are several risk factors for high blood pressure. Some are inherited, while others are controllable and related to lifestyle.


·     Age – 45 or older for men, 55 or older for women

·     African-American

·     Family history of high blood pressure (grandparents, parents or siblings)


·     Overweight/Obesity

·     Physical inactivity

·     Diet high in salt/sodium

·     Tobacco Use

·     Excessive alcohol intake

·     High stress level

·     Certain chronic conditions (high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea)

Obviously the risk factors that you have inherited, such as age and family history, are things that you cannot do anything about.  However, some things you can do something about, such as losing weight, eating healthier by reducing your sodium intake or becoming more physically active.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


The excessive pressure on your artery walls caused by high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels as well as your organs.  The higher your blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage will be to your body.  Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to:

·     Heart attack or stroke – high blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries or atherosclerosis, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

·     Aneurysm – High blood pressure can weaken your blood vessels, causing them to bulge and form an aneurysm. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening.

·     Heart failure – High blood pressure can cause your heart muscle to thicken, which makes it harder for your heart to pump blood.

·     Weakened and narrowed blood vessels in your kidneys – This can prevent your kidneys from functioning normally.

·     Thickened, narrowed or torn blood vessels in your eyes – This can lead to vision loss.

Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute