Patient Health Resource: Hypertension

When you take care of your blood pressure, you’re taking care of your whole body so you can stay healthy and do more of the things you want to do. Having hypertension, or high blood pressure, puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the U.S. Hypertension can be managed with lifestyle changes and medicine.

Man checking blood pressure at home

Hypertension is the term used for blood pressure that is higher than normal. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but it can damage your heart and cause health problems if it stays high for a long time.

Despite what a lot of people think, high blood pressure usually doesn’t cause headaches or make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. It usually has no symptoms.

When blood pressure is high, over time it can harm organs throughout the body, including the brain, eyes, heart and kidneys. It raises your risk of health problems, including heart attack and stroke.

It's never too late to manage your high blood pressure. Lowering your blood pressure also lowers your risk of serious problems. You and your doctor can make a plan to lower your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle and medicine.


Risk factors for hypertension include, but are not limited to:

  • Having other people in your family who have high blood pressure.
  • Diet, including high sodium intake and alcohol consumption.
  • Being overweight or obese, and not getting enough physical activity.
  • Race. African Americans are more likely to get high blood pressure (and at an earlier age).


A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you prevent high blood pressure. This is even more important if you have risk factors for high blood pressure that you can't change. These risk factors include race, age, and having others in your family who have high blood pressure. You may need medication to reach your blood pressure goal.

Lifestyle changes may help you lower blood pressure:

  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active.
    • Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
    • Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do activities such as running, swimming, cycling, playing tennis or team sports.
  • Limit alcohol.
    • Men: Limit yourself to two drinks a day. Women: Limit yourself to one drink a day.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
    • Eat less saturated and total fats.
  • Try to limit how much sodium you consume.
    • Buy foods that are labeled “unsalted,” “sodium-free” or “low-sodium.” Foods labeled “reduced-sodium” and “light sodium” may have too much sodium if you're hypertense.
    • Flavor your food with garlic, lemon juice, onion, vinegar, herbs, and spices instead of salt. Avoid using soy sauce, steak sauce, onion salt, garlic salt, mustard, or ketchup on your food.
    • Use less salt (or none) when recipes call for it. Often, you can use half the salt a recipe calls for without losing flavor.


Regular doctor visits and health screenings are vital to your health. Monitoring your blood pressure is part of regular care and maintenance.

When blood pressure is high, it starts to damage the blood vessels, heart and kidneys. This can lead to heart attack, stroke and other problems. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk. Lowering blood pressure lowers the risk of problems.

What is the screening test for high blood pressure?

Your care provider uses a blood pressure monitor to screen for high blood pressure. A blood pressure cuff is wrapped around your bare upper arm. Then, the cuff is pumped and slowly released. Either an automatic or manual monitor can be used.

After measuring your blood pressure, your doctor may ask you to test it again when you are home. This is because your blood pressure can change throughout the day. Sometimes blood pressure is high only because you are seeing the doctor. This is called white-coat hypertension.

In some cases, your doctor may ask you to monitor your blood pressure at home using an "ambulatory" blood pressure monitor, which automatically measures your blood pressure several times throughout the day.

To diagnose high blood pressure, your doctor needs to know if your blood pressure is high throughout the day.



If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your healthcare provider will help you understand your options for treatment and help decide what's best for you.

The treatments for high blood pressure are lifestyle changes and daily medicines.

Treatment depends on how high your blood pressure is and if you have other health problems, like diabetes. It also depends on whether any organs have already been damaged. Your doctor may check your risk for other problems, like heart attack and stroke.

Your doctor will give you a blood pressure goal based on your health and your age. Your doctor will suggest lifestyle changes to bring your blood pressure down to your goal. If lifestyle changes aren't enough, your doctor may recommend that you take pills. Most people who take pills for high blood pressure need to take two or more kinds of pills that work together.


Making lifestyle changes can help control high blood pressure. While there are many risk factors that you cannot change, caring for your health and working with your healthcare provider are two things you can control.

How to care for yourself when you have high blood pressure:

  • Stay at a healthy weight. If you're overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds may lower your blood pressure.
  • Get active. Try to do moderate activity at least 2 1/2 hours a week. Or do vigorous activity at least 1 1/4 hours a week.
  • Check your blood pressure at home. Seeing small improvements can help you keep going with your lifestyle changes.
  • Cut back on sodium. Try to limit how much sodium you eat to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. Your doctor may ask you to try to eat less than 1,500 mg a day.
  • Drink less alcohol. Alcohol can raise blood pressure. Drink it in moderation, if at all.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines.


Source: Healthwise

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