Understanding high blood pressure

It is extremely important to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) for a number of reasons. Over time, the increased pressure of the blood on the arteries and veins can cause damage to organs such as the eyes, kidneys, brain, and heart. The longer it is left untreated, the greater the damage that is done.

The decision to treat high blood pressure depends on a number of factors:

  • family history
  • level of physical activity
  • other medical conditions
  • other medications
  • risk of heart disease
  • whether or not you smoke

High blood pressure requires medical attention and treatment because it greatly increases the risk of complications that can cause premature death or serious disability. Having high blood pressure can double or triple your risk of heart disease and stroke, and puts you at a greater risk of developing kidney disease. Left untreated, high blood pressure may cause hardening of the arteries (also called atherosclerosis) or pressure-related damage that can lead to:

  • confusion
  • eye problems
  • heart failure
  • kidney failure
  • premature death
  • stroke

However, by lowering blood pressure to an acceptable level and keeping it in a normal range over your lifetime, you can help prevent these complications. A decrease of 10 mm Hg in the systolic blood pressure and 5 mm Hg in the diastolic blood pressure can have significant health benefits: by lowering your blood pressure through treatment, you can reduce your risk of heart failure more than 50%, decrease your risk of stroke by 35% to 42%, and lower your risk of heart attack by 20% to 25%.

Reaching a goal

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will recommend treatment to reach a specific blood pressure goal that is individualized to you. This goal, which will be a pair of numbers, will depend on your current medical conditions. The usual goal is less than 140 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and less than 90 mm Hg for diastolic blood pressure, or – for short – less than "140 over 90." People with diabetes should aim for less than 130 mm Hg (systolic) and less than 80 mm Hg (diastolic) ("130 over 80"). For some people are who at high risk of cardiovascular complications such as stroke or heart attack, your doctor may recommend a systolic pressure target of less than 120 mm Hg.

Lowering blood pressure requires change. Talk to your doctor about the role of lifestyle changes and medications as a pathway to reach lower blood pressure.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team