High blood pressure overview

What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is the result of blood putting too much pressure on the inner walls of blood vessels (veins and arteries). High blood pressure is also sometimes called hypertension.

How is blood pressure measured?
A tool called a sphygmomanometer is used to measure blood pressure. The resulting measurement is shown as two numbers (example: 130/80). The top number is systolic pressure - the pressure in your blood vessels when a heartbeat of blood is pumped through. The bottom number is diastolic pressure - the pressure when your heart is at rest between beats.

What is considered "high" blood pressure?
When measured by a doctor, your blood pressure is high if your systolic pressure measurement is equal to or higher than 140 and/or if your diastolic pressure measurement is equal to or above 90. If you measure your blood pressure yourself, the measurement changes slightly to equal to or higher than 135/85. If you have diabetes, your blood pressure is considered high if it is equal to or greater than 130/80.

My doctor says I have high blood pressure, but I feel fine. Should I be worried?
Most people with high blood pressure do not have any noticeable symptoms. However, if not treated, high blood pressure can lead to serious problems, including heart attack and stroke. Your doctor may want to check your blood pressure again and may talk to you about lifestyle changes and medications to help you control your blood pressure.

How can I reduce my risk of high blood pressure?
While some high blood pressure risk factors cannot be controlled - like age and family history - you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure by eating a healthy diet low in sodium, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

When is the best time to take my high blood pressure medication?
Different blood pressure medications have different requirements, like whether they must or must not be taken with food or how many times per day they are taken. It really depends on the specific medication. However, it is important to take your lifestyle and daily work and home routines into account. If you are unsure when to take your medication, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Should I check my blood pressure at home?
Your doctor may suggest that you check your blood pressure at home. Doing day-to-day home monitoring of your blood pressure keeps you involved and aware of whether or not your medications and healthy lifestyle changes are having a positive effect on your blood pressure readings.

Checking your blood pressure at home can also help to clear up confusion about inconsistent measurements. Sometimes a person's blood pressure may be very high when measured by a doctor because the medical testing context makes them feel nervous or stressed. This is called white coat hypertension, named after a doctor's white lab coat. A person could also have what is called masked hypertension. This is when a person's blood pressure is normal when measured at the doctor's office but may be higher at other times. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for more information about home monitoring.

When is the best time to check my blood pressure?
You may choose to check your blood pressure in the morning or in the evening. If you check in the morning, do so before you have eaten or taken any medication. If you check in the evening, wait for at least 2 hours after eating a meal or at least 30 minutes after drinking coffee or smoking. No matter what time of day you check your blood pressure, rest for a few minutes before you begin. Give yourself ample time and try not to choose times when you feel rushed or stressed.

What is isolated systolic hypertension (ISH)?
Isolated systolic hypertension (ISH) is diagnosed when it is only your systolic blood pressure reading that is elevated. Systolic pressure is the top, higher number in your blood pressure reading, the pressure in your blood vessels when a heartbeat of blood is pumped through. ISH is important to treat, as it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

What alternative or natural medications are effective for treating high blood pressure?
Although some natural medicines and supplements may be helpful in decreasing blood pressure, none are a replacement for lifestyle changes and medications, since they have not been proven to protect from the complications of high blood pressure. If you decide to take any natural medicines or supplements, check with your pharmacist or doctor before doing so. Many natural medicines and supplements can have side effects and can interact with medications you are taking.