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How to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Also called: Lowering High Blood Pressure


Around half of American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension). Many of those people don't know they have it because there are usually no warning signs. This can be dangerous, because high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke. The good news is that you can often prevent or treat high blood pressure. Early diagnosis and heart-healthy lifestyle changes can keep high blood pressure from seriously damaging your health.

What is blood pressure?

Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the tissues and organs in your body). Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure is measured as two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure (the first and higher number) measures pressure inside your arteries when your heart beats
  • Diastolic pressure (the second and lower number) measures the pressure inside your arteries when your heart rests between beats

As an example, a blood pressure reading of 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. So the only way to find out if you have it is to get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider. Your provider will use a gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. They will take two or more readings at separate appointments before making a diagnosis:

Blood Pressure Category Systolic Blood Pressure Diastolic Blood Pressure
Normal Less than 120 and Less than 80
Elevated 120 - 129 and Less than 80
High Blood Pressure Stage 1 130 - 139 or 80 - 89
High Blood Pressure Stage 2 140 or higher or 90 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis (dangerously high blood pressure - seek medical care right away) Higher than 180 and Higher than 120

For children and teens, the provider compares the blood pressure reading to what is normal for other kids who are the same age, height, and gender.

Who is more likely to develop high blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk:

  • Age. Blood pressure tends to rise with age.
  • Race/Ethnicity. High blood pressure is more common in Black adults. They also tend to have higher average blood pressure numbers and get high blood pressure earlier in life.
  • Sex. Men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure throughout middle age. But in older adults, women are more likely than men to develop high blood pressure.
  • Lifestyle. Certain lifestyle habits can raise your risk for high blood pressure, such as eating too much sodium (salt) or not enough potassium, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking.
  • Family history and genetics. High blood pressure often runs in families. Many genes are linked to small increases in high blood pressure risk.
  • Social and economic factors:
    • Research shows that factors such as income, education level, where you live, and the type of job you have may raise your risk of high blood pressure. For example, working early or late shifts can raise your risk.
    • Experiencing discrimination and poverty has been linked to high blood pressure. Also, some research has shown that trauma in childhood may raise the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Certain medicines. Some medicines can raise your blood pressure, including:
  • Having certain other medical conditions, such as:

How can I prevent high blood pressure?

You can help prevent high blood pressure by having a healthy lifestyle. This means:

  • Eating a healthy diet. To help manage your blood pressure, you should limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat and increase the amount of potassium in your diet. It is also important to eat foods that are lower in fat, as well as plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH eating plan is an example of an eating plan that can help you to lower your blood pressure.
  • Getting regular physical activity. Regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure.
  • Being at a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity increases your risk for high blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems.
  • Limiting alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain.
  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, talk to yourprovider for help in finding the best way for you to quit.
  • Managing stress. Learning how to relax and manage stress can improve your emotional and physical health and lower high blood pressure. Stress management techniques include exercising, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.
  • Getting enough high-quality sleep.

If you already have high blood pressure, it is important to prevent it from getting worse or causing complications. You need to get regular medical care and follow your treatment plan. Your plan will include healthy lifestyle habit recommendations and possibly medicines.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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Prevention and Risk Factors

  • Mind Your Risks From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.