About 1 in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure. Most often, high blood pressure itself has no symptoms. That is why knowing your blood pressure numbers is important, even when you're feeling fine. People with high blood pressure have a greater risk of also getting heart disease or having other medical problems.

Your blood pressure is measured using 2 numbers. These numbers are for systolic and diastolic pressures. When you visit a doctor's office and your blood pressure readings are taken, here is what the test results mean:

  • Systolic pressure: when the heart beats while pumping blood
  • Diastolic pressure: when the heart is at rest between beats

Usually blood pressure numbers are written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic, such as 120/80. In a normal blood pressure for adults, the systolic, or top number, should be less than 120. The diastolic, or the bottom number, should be less than 80.

High blood pressure may be caused by different factors, including:

  • Certain medical problems: Problems such as chronic kidney disease, thyroid disease and sleep apnea may cause blood pressure to rise.
  • Certain medicines: Drugs for asthma, allergies and cold relief may raise blood pressure.
  • Using birth control pills or hormone replacement, or being pregnant may cause high blood pressure in some women.
  • Family History: High blood pressure can run in families. People may inherit a gene that adds to their risk.
  • Aging: Older people are more likely to see their blood pressure rise. More than half of all Americans over 60 years old have high blood pressure.
  • Race/ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups are more likely to get high blood pressure.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle: Eating foods that are unhealthy or high in sodium, being overweight, being physically inactive, smoking and drinking too much alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure.

Hypertension is usually treated by making changes in your lifestyle and with medication. Treatment can help control blood pressure, but it will not cure high blood pressure. If you stop treatment, your blood pressure and risk for other health problems may rise. For a healthy future, follow your treatment plan closely. Work with your doctor for lasting blood pressure control.

Lifestyle changes you can make that might help include:

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Managing stress

Sources: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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