Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(11):1957-1958

See related article on hypertension.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is when the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be. If you have high blood pressure, you are more at risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. You also are more at risk of getting kidney disease and even of dying.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is always given as two numbers, like “140 over 90,” or 140/90 mm Hg. Your blood pressure is high if the first number is more than 140 or the second number is more than 90.

What if I have heart or kidney problems or diabetes?

If you have heart or kidney problems or diabetes, your blood pressure needs to be lower than 130/80 mm Hg.

What can I do to help lower my blood pressure?

Here are some day-to-day changes that you can make to help lower your blood pressure:

  • Do not smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products. Smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you more at risk of heart attack and stroke. Your doctor can help you quit.

  • Drink less alcohol. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day.

  • Lose weight. Losing 10 pounds can help lower your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what weight-loss program is right for you.

  • Get more exercise. You should exercise for 30 minutes per day, four or five days per week. This can include simple activities like walking the dog, walking in the park, or gardening. When you go to the store, park at the far end of the parking lot and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get up to change the channel on the TV instead of using the remote.

  • Cut down on salt. Most Americans eat two or three times more salt than they should. You should have no more than 2.4 grams (about one half teaspoon) of salt per day.

  • Eat healthy foods. You should eat four or five servings of fruits and four or five servings of vegetables each day. Make sure you get plenty of potassium, magnesium, and calcium in your diet.

Where can I get more information on lifestyle changes?

Your doctor.

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Americans In Motion

Shape Up America

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