What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is sometimes called “the silent killer.” This is because it is dangerous but has few outward symptoms.

As the heart pumps, it pushes blood through the blood vessels, creating pressure on the artery walls. High blood pressure means that your heart is having to work extra hard to get the basics of circulation accomplished.

Nearly two out of three adults age 60 or older have high blood pressure!

Besides age, other factors make it more likely your loved one, or even you, could develop high blood pressure.

  • Chronic conditions. People with diabetes, kidney disease, or sleep apnea are at higher risk for high blood pressure.
  • Race/ethnicity. Forty percent of African American adults have high blood pressure as compared with 25%–28% of adults in other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Body weight. Being overweight or obese is strongly associated with high blood pressure.
  • Lifestyle. Too much salt in the diet and/or too much alcohol raises the risk. As do stress, smoking, and lack of exercise. On the other hand, becoming more active and quitting smoking significantly decrease risk.

When blood pressure is measured, the result is two numbers, such as 114/76 (read: 114 over 76). The top number (114) reflects the pressure in your blood vessels when the heart contracts. A reading of less than 120 mmHg is considered healthy. 120-129 mmHg is “elevated,” and 130 mmHg or more is considered high.

The bottom number reflects the pressure in the blood vessels when the blood is “coasting” while the heart fills up between beats. A reading of less than 80 mmHg is normal, and a larger number is considered high.

A crisis level occurs when the top number is higher than 180 and/or the bottom number is higher than 120. When you get a reading like this, if the person you care for has pain in the chest or back, problems breathing, trouble speaking, changes in vision, or numbness or weakness, call 911 immediately! If not, wait 5 minutes and take it again to see if the readings come down. If they don’t, then get medical attention right away.