• Essential Hypertension

    (Blood Pressure, High; High Blood Pressure; Idiopathic Hypertension; Primary Hypertension)


    Blood pressure is the force that blood puts on the blood vessel walls. Blood pressure measurements include 2 numbers:
    • Systolic pressure: top number, normal reading is 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or less
    • Diastolic pressure: bottom number, normal reading is 80 mmHg or less
    High blood pressure is abnormally high pressure and is defined as:
    • Systolic pressure greater than 140 mmHg and/or
    • Diastolic pressure greater than 90 mmHg
    Prehypertensive is a systolic blood pressure between 120-139 mmHg, or a diastolic pressure between 80- 89 mmHg. Ideally, lifestyle changes or treatment can stop or delay this from moving to high blood pressure.
    High blood pressure puts stress on the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels. Over time, this condition can damage these organs and tissues.
    Organs Impacted by High Blood Pressure
    High blood pressure and organs
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    The body has a number of steps to help keep blood pressure in a healthy range. It is not clear what changes happen in this process that causes primary hypertension. It develops gradually over time.

    Risk Factors

    High blood pressure develops over time so it is most common in older adults, especially postmenopausal women.
    Factors that may increase the risk of high blood pressure include:
    • Overweight
    • Excess alcohol use
    • Smoking
    • Use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
    • Sedentary lifestyle
    • Family history
    • Kidney disease
    • Diabetes
    • High-fat, high-salt diet
    • Stress


    High blood pressure usually does not cause symptoms.
    If blood pressure reaches extreme levels, symptoms may include:
    • Headache
    • Blurry or double vision
    • Abdominal pain
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Lightheadedness


    High blood pressure is often diagnosed during a doctor's visit. Blood pressure is measured using an arm cuff and a special device. If the reading is high, you will come back for repeat checks. If you have 3 visits with readings over 140/90 mmHG, you will be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
    Sometimes people become anxious at the doctor's office. This may result in a higher than normal blood pressure reading. You may be asked to measure your blood pressure at home or in another location.


    Treatment will focus on reducing the pressure on the blood vessels. Improving the blood pressure will help to decrease the stress on important organs. It can also decrease the risk of:
    Treatment may need to be adjusted over time. Options may include:

    Lifestyle Changes

    Lifestyle changes may be effective in reducing blood pressure. It is often the first approach. Recommended steps include:
    • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
    • Exercise regularly. Start an exercise program with the advice of a doctor.
    • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit .
    • Eat a healthful diet such as the DASH diet. Heart healthy diets should be:
      • Low in fat, salt, and processed foods
      • Rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables
    • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Moderate is 2 or fewer drinks per day for men and 1 or fewer drinks per day for women and older adults.
    • Reduce stress levels—seek out relaxation techniques like meditation or breathing exercises


    Medications may be needed to help decrease blood pressure that does not respond to lifestyle changes. Some medication options include:
    • Diuretics—decreases the amount of fluid in the blood
    • Beta blockers—decreases the force and rate of heart beat
    • Medications that help keep blood vessels from tightening and narrowing such as:
      • Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors)
      • Angiotensin receptor blockers
      • Calcium channel blockers
      • Alpha blockers
      • Vasodilators
    • Aldosterone blockers—increases amount of salt that is lost out of urine


    To help reduce the risk of high blood pressure:
    • Eat a well-balanced diet. It should be rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. It should also be low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.
    • Be regularly physically active.
    • Maintain a healthy weight.
    • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit .
    • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Moderate is 2 or fewer drinks per day for men and 1 or fewer drinks per day for women and older adults.


    American Heart Association http://www.americanheart.org

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov


    Canadian Cardiovascular Society http://www.ccs.ca

    Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca


    Chobanian AV. Clinical practice. Isolated systolic hypertension in the elderly. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:789-796.

    Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. The JNC 7 report. JAMA. 2003;289:2560-2572.

    High blood pressure or hypertension. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure-or-Hypertension%5FUCM%5F002020%5FSubHomePage.jsp. Accessed September 1, 2017.

    Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated August 17, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017.

    What is high blood pressure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbp/HBP%5FWhatIs.html. Updated September 10, 2015. Accessed September 1, 2017.

    9/2/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension: Forman J, Stampfer M, Curhan G. Diet and lifestyle risk factors associated with incident hypertension in women. JAMA. 2009;302(4):401-411.

    10/17/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension: National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC). Guideline summary: Hypertension evidence-based nutrition practice guideline. In: National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC) [Web site]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ); 2015 Jan 01. [cited 2016 Oct 17]. Available: https://www.guideline.gov. Accessed October 17, 2016.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
    • Review Date: 09/2017
    • Update Date: 03/13/2017
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