Blood pressure is the measurement of how forceful your blood is flowing through your blood vessels. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when your blood pressure is consistently too high.

High Blood Pressure Overview and Diagnosis

High blood pressure is a risk factor for many serious heart conditions, including heart attack and stroke, but can usually be well-controlled through diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Many people do not know they have high blood pressure, as it often has no obvious symptoms. Having your blood pressure checked is the only way to know whether it is in a normal or unhealthy range. Regular monitoring can help you tell if you have high blood pressure and notice changes over time.

Sometimes high blood pressure is the result of another condition, including kidney or thyroid problems, certain medications, and congenital heart defects. Called “secondary hypertension,” this type of high blood pressure often has a sudden onset and can cause blood pressure to rise higher than it otherwise would.

Stages of Blood Pressure

(source: American Heart Association)

Blood Pressure Category Systolic mm HG
(top number)
Diastolic mm HG
(bottom number)


Less than 120


Less than 80


120 – 129


Less than 80

High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1

130 – 139


80 – 89

High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2

140 or higher


90 or higher

Hypertensive Crisis
(consult doctor immediately)

Higher than 180


Higher than 120

Your risk of developing high blood pressure can be affected by:

  • Older age (though children can also develop high blood pressure)
  • Family history
  • Race (African-Americans are affected by high blood pressure moreso than any other ethnic group in the U.S.)
  • Gender (men under 45 are more likely to develop high blood pressure than women under 45; women over 65 are more likely to have high blood pressure than men over 65)
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating an unhealthy diet (including high sodium intake)
  • Heavy alcohol use

Stress and smoking are two other potential risk factors for high blood pressure, though how much of a role they play in the development of hypertension is not known.

High Blood Pressure Treatment at BIDMC

High blood pressure can usually be controlled and successfully managed with medication and/or through healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor about regularly monitoring your blood pressure and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Eat a diet low in salt
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Take medications as prescribed

These modifications can help you:

  • Control and lower your blood pressure
  • Prevent further development of high blood pressure
  • Lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and many other conditions

Learn More

The CardioVascular Institue offers world-renowned medical and surgical care prevention, diagnosis and treatment for conditions of the heart and blood vessels. 

Cardiovascular Medicine