Official reprint from UpToDate®
www.uptodate.com ©2017 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

Patient education: High blood pressure in adults (Beyond the Basics)

Johannes FE Mann, MD
Section Editor
George L Bakris, MD
Deputy Editors
Daniel J Sullivan, MD, MPH
John P Forman, MD, MSc
0 Find synonyms

Find synonyms Find exact match



Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure refers to the pressure that blood applies to the inner walls of the arteries. Arteries carry blood from the heart to other organs and parts of the body.


An individual's blood pressure is defined by two measurements:

Systolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries produced when the heart contracts (at the time of a heart beat)

Diastolic pressure refers the pressure in the arteries during relaxation of the heart between heart beats

Blood pressure is reported as the systolic pressure over diastolic pressure (eg, 120/70 or "120 over 70").

Untreated high blood pressure increases the strain on the heart and arteries, eventually causing organ damage. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart failure, heart attack (myocardial infarction), stroke, and kidney failure.


Normal blood pressure — Less than 120 over less than 80.

Elevated blood pressure — 120 to 129 over less than 80.

People with elevated blood pressure are at increased risk of developing hypertension and cardiovascular complications; however, medications used to treat hypertension are not known to be beneficial in people with elevated blood pressure.


Stage 1: 130 to 139 over 80 to 89

Stage 2: At least 140 over at least 90

Most adults with hypertension have primary hypertension (formerly called "essential" hypertension), which means that the cause of the high blood pressure is not known. A small subset of adults has secondary hypertension, which means that there is an underlying and potentially correctable cause, usually a kidney or hormonal disorder.

Prevalence of high blood pressure

Hypertension is a common health problem. In the United States, approximately 46 percent adults have hypertension.

Hypertension is more common as people grow older. In the United States, for example, hypertension is present in 76 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 years and 82 percent of adults aged 75 years or older

Unfortunately, many people's blood pressure is not well controlled. According to a national survey, hypertension was in good control in only 47 percent of adults.


High blood pressure does not usually cause any symptoms.


Many people are anxious when seeing a doctor or nurse. As a result, you are not diagnosed with hypertension unless your blood pressure is persistently high at two office visits at least one week apart.

The only exceptions to this are if the blood pressure is very high or if you have damage from high blood pressure, such as heart, eye, or kidney injury. Before a decision is made to begin treatment, you may be asked to measure your blood pressure at home or work.


Untreated hypertension can lead to a variety of complications, including heart disease and stroke. The risk of these complications increases as your blood pressure rises above 110/75, which is still in the healthy range. Treating high blood pressure can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

Lifestyle changes — Treatment of hypertension usually begins with lifestyle changes. Making these lifestyle changes involves little or no risk. Recommended changes often include:

Reduce the amount of salt in your diet

Lose weight if you are overweight or obese

Avoid drinking too much alcohol

Stop smoking

Exercise at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week

These changes are discussed in detail in a separate article. (See "Patient education: High blood pressure, diet, and weight (Beyond the Basics)".)

Medicine — A medicine to lower blood pressure may be recommended if your blood pressure is consistently high, usually at or above 140/90. Treatment with medicine is recommended at a lower blood pressure for some older people and for those with atherosclerosis (fatty deposits lining the arteries, as in coronary heart disease, stroke, or peripheral artery disease), diabetes, or chronic kidney disease complicated by protein in the urine. (See "Patient education: Diabetes mellitus type 1: Overview (Beyond the Basics)" and "Patient education: Diabetes mellitus type 2: Overview (Beyond the Basics)" and "Patient education: Chronic kidney disease (Beyond the Basics)".)

High blood pressure medicines are discussed in a separate article. (See "Patient education: High blood pressure treatment in adults (Beyond the Basics)".)


Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.

This article will be updated as needed on our web site (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients, as well as selected articles written for healthcare professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.

Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.

The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.

Patient education: High blood pressure in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Controlling your blood pressure through lifestyle (The Basics)
Patient education: Checking your blood pressure at home (The Basics)
Patient education: Preeclampsia (The Basics)
Patient education: Polycystic kidney disease (The Basics)
Patient education: The ABCs of diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise (The Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure and pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Renovascular hypertension (The Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure emergencies (The Basics)
Patient education: Aortic dissection (The Basics)
Patient education: Coronary heart disease in women (The Basics)
Patient education: Medicines for chronic kidney disease (The Basics)

Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Patient education: High blood pressure, diet, and weight (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Diabetes mellitus type 1: Overview (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Diabetes mellitus type 2: Overview (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic kidney disease (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure treatment in adults (Beyond the Basics)

Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.

Ambulatory and home blood pressure monitoring and white coat hypertension in adults
Antihypertensive therapy and progression of nondiabetic chronic kidney disease in adults
Diagnosis of primary aldosteronism
Can drug therapy be discontinued in well-controlled hypertension?
Cardiovascular risks of hypertension
Choice of drug therapy in primary (essential) hypertension
Definition, risk factors, and evaluation of resistant hypertension
Diet in the treatment and prevention of hypertension
Moderate to severe hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive encephalopathy in adults
Initial evaluation of the hypertensive adult
Management of severe asymptomatic hypertension (hypertensive urgencies) in adults
Overview of hypertension in adults
Patient adherence and the treatment of hypertension
Perioperative management of hypertension
Renin-angiotensin system inhibition in the treatment of hypertension
Salt intake, salt restriction, and primary (essential) hypertension
Establishing the diagnosis of renovascular hypertension
Prevention of cardiovascular disease events in those with established disease or at high risk
Spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage: Pathogenesis, clinical features, and diagnosis
Spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage: Treatment and prognosis
Blood pressure measurement in the diagnosis and management of hypertension in adults
The metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance syndrome or syndrome X)
The prevalence and control of hypertension in adults
Treatment of hypertension in blacks
Antihypertensive therapy to prevent recurrent stroke or transient ischemic attack
Treatment of hypertension in patients with diabetes mellitus
Treatment of hypertension in patients with heart failure
Treatment of hypertension in older adults, particularly isolated systolic hypertension
Treatment of resistant hypertension
What is goal blood pressure in the treatment of hypertension?
Evaluation of secondary hypertension

The following organizations also provide reliable health information.

National Library of Medicine


National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI)


American Heart Association


The Hormone Foundation



Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Tue Nov 21 00:00:00 GMT 2017.
The content on the UpToDate website is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. The use of this website is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use ©2017 UpToDate, Inc.

All topics are updated as new information becomes available. Our peer review process typically takes one to six weeks depending on the issue.