High blood pressure is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood
against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause heart
Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the
amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps
and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
You can have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without any symptoms. Even
without symptoms, damage to blood vessels and heart continues and can be
detected. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health
problems, including heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure generally develops over many years, and it affects nearly
eventually. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected and controlled
Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood
readings reach dangerously high levels.
People with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or
nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren't specific and usually don't occur
high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
If you're age
40 or older, or you're 18 to 39 with a high risk of high blood pressure, ask
your doctor for a blood pressure reading every year.
Blood pressure generally should be checked in both arms to determine if there's a
difference. It's important to use an appropriate-sized arm cuff.
pressure machines, such as those found in pharmacies, may provide helpful
information about your blood pressure, but they may have some limitations. The
accuracy of these machines depends on several factors, such as a correct cuff size
proper use of the machines.
There are two types of high blood pressure.
Primary (essential) hypertension
For most adults, there's no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of
blood pressure, called primary (essential) hypertension, tends to develop gradually
Some people have high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. This type of
high blood pressure, called secondary hypertension, tends to appear suddenly and
cause higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension. Various conditions and
medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:
Obstructive sleep apnea
Adrenal gland tumors
Certain defects you're born with (congenital) in blood vessels
Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants,
the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines
High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:
Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Until about age
blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high
blood pressure after age 65.
Family history: High blood pressure tends to run in families.
Being overweight or obese: The more you weigh the more blood you need to
supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated
through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
Not being physically active: People who are inactive tend to have higher
rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each
contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity
increases the risk of being overweight.
Using tobacco: Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise
blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of
your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow and increase your risk of
heart disease. Secondhand smoke also can increase your heart disease risk.
Too much salt (sodium) in your diet: Too much sodium in your diet can cause
body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
Drinking too much alcohol: Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart.
Having more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men
may affect your blood pressure.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For
healthy adults, that means up to one
drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Stress: High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood
you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only
increase problems with high blood pressure.
Certain chronic conditions: Certain chronic conditions also may increase your
of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea.
Sometimes pregnancy contributes to high blood pressure, as well.
Although high blood pressure is most common in adults, children may be at risk, too.
some children, high blood pressure is caused by problems with the kidneys or heart.
for a growing number of kids, poor lifestyle habits, such as an unhealthy diet,
lack of exercise, contribute to high blood pressure.
The excessive pressure on your artery walls caused by high blood pressure can damage
your blood vessels, as well as organs in your body. The higher your blood pressure
the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to complications including:
Heart attack or stroke: High blood pressure can cause hardening and
the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other
Aneurysm: Increased blood pressure can cause your blood vessels to weaken and
bulge, forming an aneurysm. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening.
Heart failure: To pump blood against the higher pressure in your vessels, the
has to work harder. This causes the walls of the heart's pumping chamber to thicken
(left ventricular hypertrophy). Eventually, the thickened muscle may have a hard
pumping enough blood to meet your body's needs, which can lead to heart failure.
Weakened and narrowed blood vessels in your kidneys: This can prevent these
organs from functioning normally.
Thickened: narrowed or torn blood vessels in the eyes. This can result in
Metabolic syndrome: This syndrome is a cluster of disorders of your body's
metabolism, including increased waist circumference; high triglycerides; low high-
density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol; high blood pressure
and high insulin levels. These conditions make you more likely to develop diabetes,
disease and stroke.
Trouble with memory or understanding: Uncontrolled high blood pressure may
also affect your ability to think, remember and learn. Trouble with memory or
understanding concepts is more common in people with high blood pressure.
Dementia: Narrowed or blocked arteries can limit blood flow to the brain,
leading to a
certain type of dementia (vascular dementia). A stroke that interrupts blood flow to
brain also can cause vascular dementia.