Are you among the one in three Americans who have high blood pressure? If so, you may be tempted to ignore it. There are usually no symptoms. Many people with high blood pressure, or hypertension, feel fine.
But if you don't get treatment and make lifestyle changes, you could face serious consequences for your health from this "silent killer."
What does high blood pressure do to your body?
- Heart failure. Blood pressure that is too high over time can make the heart work too hard, weakening it. Eventually, it can lead to heart failure, a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood through the body.
- Heart attack. High blood pressure can lead to a narrowing of arteries, which limits the flow of blood. A heart attack may happen when the blood is blocked from a portion of the heart.
- Stroke. High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for stroke. When a weakened blood vessel breaks and bleeds in the brain, it can cause a stroke. A stroke can also happen if a blood clot blocks a narrowed artery.
- Kidney damage. High blood pressure can lead to damaged kidneys because narrowed or blocked arteries cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to them. Eventually, the kidneys may fail.
- Eye problems. High blood pressure can make the blood vessels in your eyes burst. The damage may cause vision problems, including blurry vision and even blindness.
How to reduce your risk
If your blood pressure is normal - under 120 on the top (systolic blood pressure) and under 80 on the bottom (diastolic blood pressure) - that's great.
Classification of blood pressure for adults
|Category||Systolic pressure (mm Hg)||Diastolic pressure (mm Hg)|
|Normal||Less than 120||and||Less than 80|
|160 or higher||or||100 or higher|
If your doctor tells you it is higher than what is considered normal, there are steps you can take to protect your body.
- Take all medications as prescribed. If your doctor says you need medicine, be sure to stick to the regimen. The medications are easy to take, and if there are side effects, they tend to be minor. Don't stop taking the drugs when your blood pressure goes down. That could just mean the medication is working.
- Reach or maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, try to lose some pounds. Taking off just 5 to 10 percent of your weight may lower your risk for the problems associated with high blood pressure.
- Follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. The DASH plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It recommends fat-free or low-fat dairy, as well as fish, poultry and nuts. And it limits sugar and red meat.
- Limit sodium (salt). If you have normal blood pressure (under 120/80) the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest you reduce your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. The guidelines suggest 1,500 mg for children, people who have high blood pressure or other chronic disease, are more than 50 years old or are African American. Salt that you add from the salt shaker is likely a very small portion of your total. Most of what we get hides in processed and packaged foods. Read nutritional labels at the grocery store and limit restaurant meals, which can also contain lots of sodium.
- Get moving. Being active can lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health. Studies show that getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week (30 minutes daily for five days a week) brings substantial benefits. If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.
- Avoid or cut back on alcohol. Drinking alcohol is not suggested when you have high blood pressure. Too much alcohol raises blood pressure. Men who choose to drink should have no more than two drinks a day. If you are a woman and you choose to drink, your limit should be one drink per day. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if it is safe for you to have alcohol while on blood pressure medicine.
- Don't smoke. Smoking can contribute to high blood pressure by damaging your blood vessels. It can also make other health problems associated with high blood pressure worse. Your doctor or other health care provider can suggest resources to help you quit smoking, like classes at hospitals or community groups. Many people benefit from support groups made up of others who are trying to quit.
Created on 06/24/1999
Updated on 05/24/2013
- United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?
- National High Blood Pressure Education Program. Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure.