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FAQ (Health)

 Dr. George Jacob
Heart Infocenter


Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)


Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. Blood pressure has two components-the systolic pressure (It is the force that blood exerts on the artery walls when the heart is pumping) over the diastolic pressure (it is the residual force that remains when the heart relaxes between beats). The measurement is written one above or before the other, with the systolic number on top and the diastolic number on the bottom. For example, a blood pressure measurement of 130/85 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) is expressed verbally as "130 over 85."

Blood pressure varies from person to person and by ages. In general:
Normal blood pressure is less than 130 mm Hg systolic and less than 85 mm Hg diastolic. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic.

Hypertension is generally defined as a blood pressure greater than 140/90. You should bring your blood pressure closer to what's considered optimal, 120/80. Elevated in blood pressure is bad because it raises your risk for heart attack and stroke.

See: Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults

Depending on other risk factors, even the high end of normal may be too high for some people. A study done by researchers at the University of Michigan suggested that even slightly elevated blood pressures can be dangerous for some people, especially those who are obese (those with 20 percent to 30 percent above the recommended body weight). Borderline hypertension is defined as anywhere between 140 and 160 systolic, and between 90 and 95 diastolic. Anything above those levels is bona fide hypertension. (The exception is elderly patients. Here, systolic pressures are sometimes allowed to rise to 180 to compensate for aging arteries, as long as the patient doesn't have other risk factors such as obesity or high cholesterol.)

High blood pressure increases your chance (or risk) for getting heart disease and/or kidney disease, and for having a stroke. Hypertension is often called the silent killer. It is especially dangerous because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. Regardless of race, age, or gender, anyone can develop high blood pressure. It is estimated that one in every four American adults has high blood pressure. But only about half of those who have it know they have it. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. You can prevent and control high blood pressure by taking action.

Hypertension Survey Facts

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) conducted a national survey of more than 1,500 Americans over the age of 50 to gauge the awareness of high blood pressure, including its risks and causes. This group is considered to be at great risk for complications from uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Here are the key findings:

  • 46% of survey respondents did not know their systolic (top) and diastolic (bottom) blood pressure numbers.

  • More than two out of three respondents (69%) have not discussed the physical consequences of high blood pressure with a healthcare provider (doctor or nurse) in the past 12 months.

  • Only 27% knew the importance of the systolic number as an indicator of high blood pressure.

  • 46% of those surveyed incorrectly believed that the main cause of high blood pressure is stress.

  • While many people know that stroke and heart disease are consequences of untreated high blood pressure, half the respondents did not know that kidney failure can result from hypertension.

About half of the people diagnosed with high blood pressure have borderline to mildly high blood pressure. For these cases, diet and lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, stress management and self-monitoring with a home blood pressure device, can be used to control and bring down the blood pressure with no side effects. However, if you have elevated blood pressure, you will have to take medication to bring it down and then implement lifestyle changes to make sure that the blood pressure stays low. Thus Complementary therapies are very useful in managing this condition.

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