A Quick and Realistic Look at High Blood Pressure
Learn how high blood pressure or hypertension is diagnosed and treated.

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Picture of stethoscope A Quick and Realistic Look at High Blood Pressure

My doctor says my blood pressure was high.

You've been to the doctor and found out that your blood pressure is elevated. A one-time reading isn't necessarily high blood pressure.

But be sure you go back to the doctor to get your blood pressure checked again or follow your doctor's directions for taking your blood pressure at home. If your blood pressure is high, you don't want to ignore it. If your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure, don't dismiss it. Failing to deal with high blood pressure now could mean big-time health problems down the road. Here's what your numbers mean:


Systolic reading* (mmHg)


Diastolic reading* (mmHg)


Less than 120


Less than 80





High Blood Pressure
Stage 1




High Blood Pressure
Stage 2

greater than 160


greater than 100

*If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the definition of high blood pressure changes. If you have one of these conditions, high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 mmHg or higher. High blood pressure numbers also differ for children and teens.

I'm concerned about high blood pressure.
Good! You're smart to be concerned, and even smarter for making a decision to do something about it. High blood pressure is a serious medical condition and can lead to heart disease and strokes.

What are my risk factors?
Although the cause remains unknown, factors known to increase the chance of developing high blood pressure are:

  • Heredity. If your parents have or had high blood pressure, you have a greater chance of getting it.
  • Race. African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than Caucasians.
  • Gender. Men run a greater overall risk for developing high blood pressure than women.
  • Age. The older we get, the greater the risk for developing high blood pressure.
  • Obesity. People who are overweight are more likely than others to develop high blood pressure.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption.
  • Smoking.
  • Some oral contraceptives.
  • An inactive lifestyle.

How do I get started in changing my lifestyle?
If your blood pressure readings are consistently elevated, you can change some of your lifestyle choices that can contribute to high blood pressure, including caffeine, cigarettes, and stress. Stress reduction is an important part of the treatment. Here's what else you can do:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Reduce your caffeine consumption.
  • Reduce your salt intake. Eating a diet high in sodium may raise your blood pressure and lead to heart disease and stroke. Experts recommend that people with high blood pressure should limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg (two thirds of a teaspoon) per day.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Exercise. This is a very important step in managing high blood pressure. Speak with your doctor before beginning a regular exercise program, and be careful not to overdo it, especially if you have not exercised for a while.

Healthy lifestyle changes will help you feel better and may reduce or eliminate your need for medication. But never stop medications without talking to your doctor.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer
Created on 07/10/2002
Updated on 05/25/2011
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. National High Blood Pressure Education Program. The seventh report on the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the dietary guidelines for Americans,2010.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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