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JAMA Patient Page
September 22/29, 2020

High Blood Pressure

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of California, Davis
  • 2Associate Editor, JAMA Network Open
JAMA. 2020;324(12):1254-1255. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.11289

High blood pressure is a common condition in the US that increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Blood pushing against the walls of arteries in the body creates pressure, which generally varies throughout the day. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is blood pressure that is consistently higher than what is considered normal. There are 2 types of blood pressure measures: systolic and diastolic. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, while diastolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests. Normal systolic blood pressure is less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and normal diastolic blood pressure is less than 80 mm Hg, together described as 120/80 mm Hg. High blood pressure may be defined slightly differently by clinicians because some guidelines suggest that high blood pressure is that which is consistently higher than 130/80 mm Hg, while other guidelines suggest higher than 140/90 mm Hg.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms, which can make it difficult for individuals to know they have it.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure over long periods of time can lead to serious medical conditions such as heart failure or heart attack, stroke, vision problems, and kidney disease.

Preventing High Blood Pressure

There are several known risk factors for developing high blood pressure, including unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, obesity, tobacco use, and excess alcohol use. In the US, older adults, women, and Black individuals also have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Some people with a family history of high blood pressure may also have an increased risk.

The most important ways to prevent high blood pressure are to maintain a healthy diet and regular physical activity along with limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco use.

Diagnosis and Treatment

High blood pressure is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure at a doctor’s office, at a pharmacy, or with an at-home monitor. Many people can lower their blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as engaging in 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week, eating a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables and limits salt and alcohol intake, not smoking, and managing stress. Some people may need to take medication in addition to these lifestyle changes to lower their blood pressure to a healthy range. You may be asked to regularly monitor your blood pressure if you are being treated for high blood pressure, either with a home monitor or at a pharmacy that offers blood pressure monitoring. Talk to your doctor before starting medication to treat high blood pressure.

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Article Information

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm

American College of Cardiology

Muntner P, Hardy ST, Fine LJ, et al. Trends in blood pressure control among US adults with hypertension, 1999-2000 to 2017-2018. JAMA. Published September 22, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.14545