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How to Prevent High Blood Pressure

More than 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure, or hypertension. Many of those people don't know they have it, because there are usually no warning signs. This can be dangerous, because high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke. The good news is that you can often prevent or treat high blood pressure. Early diagnosis and heart-healthy lifestyle changes can keep high blood pressure from seriously damaging your health.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure.

Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually the systolic number comes before or above the diastolic number. For example, 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. So the only way to find out if you have it is to get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider. Your provider will use a gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. He or she will take two or more readings at separate appointments before making a diagnosis.

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic Blood PressureDiastolic Blood PressureNormalLess than 120andLess than 80High Blood Pressure (no other heart risk factors)140 or higheror90 or higherHigh Blood Pressure (with other heart risk factors, according to some providers)130 or higheror80 or higherDangerously high blood pressure - seek medical care right away180 or higherand120 or higher

For children and teens, the health care provider compares the blood pressure reading to what is normal for other kids who are the same age, height, and gender.

People with diabetes or chronic kidney disease should keep their blood pressure below 130/80.

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk:

  • Age - Blood pressure tends to rise with age
  • Race/Ethnicity - High blood pressure is more common in African American adults
  • Weight - People who are overweight or have obesity are more likely to develop high blood pressure
  • Sex - Before age 55, men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure. After age 55, women are more likely than men to develop it.
  • Lifestyle - Certain lifestyle habits can raise your risk for high blood pressure, such as eating too much sodium (salt) or not enough potassium, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking.
  • Family history - A family history of high blood pressure raises the risk of developing high blood pressure
How can I prevent high blood pressure?

You can help prevent high blood pressure by having a healthy lifestyle. This means:

  • Eating a healthy diet. To help manage your blood pressure, you should limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat and increase the amount of potassium in your diet. It is also important to eat foods that are lower in fat, as well as plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH eating plan is an example of an eating plan that can help you to lower your blood pressure.
  • Getting regular exercise. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. You should try to get moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 2 and a half hours per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is any exercise in which your heart beats harder and you use more oxygen than usual.
  • Being at a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity increases your risk for high blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems.
  • Limiting alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one.
  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, talk to your health care provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit.
  • Managing stress. Learning how to relax and manage stress can improve your emotional and physical health and lower high blood pressure. Stress management techniques include exercising, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.

If you already have high blood pressure, it is important to prevent it from getting worse or causing complications. You should get regular medical care and follow your prescribed treatment plan. Your plan will include healthy lifestyle habit recommendations and possibly medicines.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia means low blood glucose, or blood sugar. Your body needs glucose to have enough energy. After you eat, your blood absorbs glucose. If you eat more sugar than your body needs, your muscles, and liver store the extra. When your blood sugar begins to fall, a hormone tells your liver to release glucose.

In most people, this raises blood sugar. If it doesn't, you have hypoglycemia, and your blood sugar can be dangerously low. Signs include :

  • Hunger
  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Feeling anxious or weak

In people with diabetes, hypoglycemia is often a side effect of diabetes medicines. Eating or drinking something with carbohydrates can help. If it happens often, your health care provider may need to change your treatment plan.

You can also have low blood sugar without having diabetes. Causes include certain medicines or diseases, hormone or enzyme deficiencies, and tumors. Laboratory tests can help find the cause. The kind of treatment depends on why you have low blood sugar.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Kidney Transplantation

A kidney transplant is an operation that places a healthy kidney in your body. The transplanted kidney takes over the work of the two kidneys that failed, so you no longer need dialysis.

During a transplant, the surgeon places the new kidney in your lower abdomen and connects the artery and vein of the new kidney to your artery and vein. Often, the new kidney will start making urine as soon as your blood starts flowing through it. But sometimes it takes a few weeks to start working.

Many transplanted kidneys come from donors who have died. Some come from a living family member. The wait for a new kidney can be long.

If you have a transplant, you must take drugs for the rest of your life, to keep your body from rejecting the new kidney.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Laboratory Tests

Laboratory tests check a sample of your blood, urine, or body tissues. A technician or your doctor analyzes the test samples to see if your results fall within the normal range. The tests use a range because what is normal differs from person to person. Many factors affect test results. These include:

  • Your sex, age and race
  • What you eat and drink
  • Medicines you take
  • How well you followed pre-test instructions

Your doctor may also compare your results to results from previous tests. Laboratory tests are often part of a routine checkup to look for changes in your health. They also help doctors diagnose medical conditions, plan or evaluate treatments, and monitor diseases.

Low Blood Pressure

You've probably heard that high blood pressure is a problem. Sometimes blood pressure that is too low can also cause problems.

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure. Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually they're written one above or before the other, such as 120/80. If your blood pressure reading is 90/60 or lower, you have low blood pressure.

Some people have low blood pressure all the time. They have no symptoms and their low readings are normal for them. In other people, blood pressure drops below normal because of a medical condition or certain medicines. Some people may have symptoms of low blood pressure when standing up too quickly. Low blood pressure is a problem only if it causes dizziness, fainting or in extreme cases, shock.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute