Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(9):1289

See related article on managing hypertension.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure in your blood vessels. It is measured during certain parts of your heartbeat. This measurement has two numbers. The systolic (siss-TALL-ick) number is on the top and the diastolic (DIE-eh-stall-ick) number is on the bottom. If your blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg, your systolic blood pressure is 120 and your diastolic is 80. Normal blood pressure is when the top number is less than 120 and the bottom number is less than 80 (or, less than 120/80).

What is hypertension?

Hypertension (hyper-TEN-shun) is when your blood pressure is higher than normal. High blood pressure may increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. A blood pressure that is higher than 120/80 mm Hg, but lower than 140/90 mm Hg (or 130/80 mm Hg if you have diabetes or kidney disease) is called “prehypertension.”

Some people may not have symptoms of high blood pressure until they have a heart attack or stroke. Lowering your blood pressure will lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

How is it treated?

Healthy living is the most important part of treating high blood pressure. This means you exercise regularly, do not smoke, only drink alcohol in moderation, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a healthy diet that is low in salt. For some people, a healthy lifestyle alone is enough to lower their blood pressure to normal. You may also need to take medicines. There are a lot of medicines that can treat high blood pressure. These can help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor may have you take medicines if your blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mm Hg, or higher than 130/80 mm Hg if you have diabetes or kidney disease.

You may need to take two or more different medicines. This is because one medicine may not be able to lower your blood pressure enough. If you also have other conditions (like heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes), you may need to take more than one medicine. This is because different medicines may help protect your organs.

It is important to remember that healthy lifestyle changes are a part of your treatment even if you are taking medicines.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Heart Association

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2008 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.