We all need blood pressure to live. Without it, blood can't flow through our
bodies and carry oxygen to our vital organs. But when blood pressure gets too high
— a condition called hypertension — it can lead to serious medical
Hypertension is usually more of a problem for adults, but teens and kids also can
have it. Even babies can have high blood pressure. The good news is that hypertension
can be treated.
How Does Blood Pressure Work?
Blood pressure is basically how hard your heart needs to pump to move blood around
your body. It's the result of two different forces:
the force the heart creates as it pumps blood through the circulatory system
the force that comes from the arteries resisting the blood flow
Blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between
beats, but there is always some pressure in the arteries.
Blood pressure can be affected by:
Why Is High Blood Pressure Bad?
High blood pressure means a person's heart and arteries must work harder than
they normally would. Over time, the added stress can damage them. When the heart and
arteries don't work as well as they should, other body parts (like the kidneys,
eyes, and brain) may suffer.
Having high blood pressure makes people more likely to have strokes, heart attacks,
heart failure, kidney failure, or loss of vision.
What Are the Signs of High Blood Pressure?
People can have high blood pressure for years and not have any signs. In rare cases,
severe high blood pressure can cause problems like these:
nausea (feeling sick)
A person with high blood pressure who has any of these problems should see a doctor
How Do Doctors Measure Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure readings are fast and painless. Blood pressure is measured using
an instrument called a
(pronounced: sfig-mow-mah-NAH-meh-ter). This device has an inflatable
cuff that a doctor or nurse wraps around your arm. As the cuff inflates, it squeezes
an artery, stopping the blood flow for a moment. As the cuff deflates and the next
heartbeat goes through the artery, the doctor or nurse measures the pressure. He or
she also measures the pressure at its lowest point between heartbeats.
Automated devices also measure blood pressure, but are not always as accurate.
When doctors tell people their blood pressure, they use two numbers; for example,
120/80 ("120 over 80"). The first number is the systolic
pressure. This is the pressure at the peak of each heartbeat. The second
number is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure when the heart
rests between beats.
What Is Hypertension?
For adults (people 18 and older), blood pressure that's lower than 120 over 80
is normal. High blood pressure is 140 over 90 or higher. If someone's systolic pressure
is 120 to 139, or if their diastolic pressure is 80 to 89, it's called elevated
blood pressure or prehypertension.
It's a little different for kids and teens: People younger than 18 have hypertension
if 95% of kids or teens of the same age, height, and gender have lower blood
pressure. Blood pressure between 90% and 95% of the normal range is considered prehypertension.
If a doctor or nurse thinks your blood pressure is too high, he or she will take
at least three readings at different times before calling it hypertension. Teens with
prehypertension or hypertension are more likely to have high blood pressure as adults.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Most of the time, there's no specific reason why someone has high blood pressure.
This is called essential hypertension or primary hypertension.
But some people have a medical condition that causes hypertension — like kidney
disease or a thyroid disorder. This is called
If you have high blood pressure, a doctor might also check for high blood cholesterol and other
conditions that could make heart disease or a stroke more likely.
A single reading showing high blood pressure doesn't mean that you have hypertension.
It is a sign to watch your blood pressure, though. Sometimes, blood pressure
needs to be checked several times over a period of days or weeks to determine if someone
Some people have what's called "white coat hypertension." This means that
their blood pressure goes up when they're at a doctor's office because they're
nervous. When they feel more relaxed, their blood pressure usually goes down. To make
sure high blood pressure readings aren't caused by anxiety, doctors will sometimes
track a person's blood pressure over a whole day. This is called ambulatory blood
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will want to figure out why. He or
she might ask about:
the health of your family members
any medicines or drugs you take
if you use tobacco or drink alcohol
your eating and exercise habits
if you've had any kidney problems
Your doctor will probably weigh and measure you. He or she might do urine
tests or blood tests to check for other conditions that can cause hypertension.
How Is Hypertension Treated?
Some people need medicine to control high blood pressure. Often, though, people
can manage hypertension by making changes in their lives; for example:
eating healthier foods (sometimes called the DASH diet)
getting more exercise
avoiding tobacco and alcohol
If you've been told you have hypertension, your doctor will work with you to come
up with a treatment plan.
In some cases, teens with severe hypertension may need to be careful about the
kinds of exercise they do. Some will have to avoid things like weightlifting and bodybuilding
until their blood pressure is back to normal.
Can I Prevent Hypertension?
Here are ways to help prevent hypertension and keep yourself healthy: