Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has no noticeable symptoms. That’s why it
is commonly referred to as a “silent killer,” Untreated high blood pressure can
lead to a greater risk for stroke, heart attack, or other heart damage. Normal blood
pressure is less than 120 (systolic)
over 80 (diastolic) —often written
as 120/80 mm Hg (read 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury). Your doctor should measure
your blood pressure during each visit. If your doctor finds that your blood pressure
is consistently higher after several visits, you may be diagnosed with hypertension.
The odds are good that most people will have high blood pressure in their lifetime.
In fact, more than 74 million American adults have high blood pressure.1
Approximately 90% of people with normal blood pressure at age 55 are at risk for
developing high blood pressure as they get older.2 However, it’s important
to know that even though high blood pressure is quite common, it is still a dangerous
condition that should be monitored closely by a doctor.
If you have recently been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), there
are positive steps you can take. There are many lifestyle changes and treatment
options available to help lower blood pressure.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. When a person has a blood pressure reading
between 120/80 and 139/89, this condition is called prehypertension. Stage 1 hypertension
is defined as 140-159/90-99, and a blood pressure above those levels is considered
Stage 2 hypertension.3
The Stages of Hypertension
Blood pressure (mm Hg)
Less than 120/80
120/80 to 139/89
140/90 to 159/99
Stage 1 hypertension
160/100 and higher
Stage 2 hypertension
During a regular physical exam, a doctor or other healthcare provider uses a
sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff) to check blood pressure. This common
device should be familiar to you: it consists of a cuff that fastens around the
upper arm and is attached to a bulb. The doctor inflates the cuff by squeezing the
bulb. The doctor then releases the air from the cuff and listens with a stethoscope
for the first heartbeat that can be heard. As the pressure
drops, the point where the first sound is heard represents systolic blood pressure.
The point where the heartbeat fades and disappears is diastolic blood pressure.2
Your doctor may also check for hypertensive
retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels in the eyes caused by
high blood pressure. Since high blood pressure puts people at risk for stroke and
kidney failure, the exam will also cover all of the major organs such as the brain,
lungs, and kidneys, to check for damage. Depending on the results of these tests,
more tests (eg, urinalysis, blood tests, and ECG) may be necessary.2,3
If high blood pressure is well controlled, most serious complications may be avoidable.
However, for people with very high, uncontrolled blood pressure, serious problems could develop. Talking to your doctor and taking steps now
to lower blood pressure are the best ways to prevent more serious problems from
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