High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

What is high blood pressure (also called hypertension)?

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the artery. The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart must work to pump blood to the rest of your body. Without proper treatment, high blood pressure can lead to many cardiovascular problems, including dilated pumping chamber and valvular defects.

There are two measurements that determine your blood pressure:

  1. Systolic: The systolic number reflects the pressure against the arterial walls immediately after the heart pumps. This is the top number in the reading. For example, if your blood pressure is 120/80 (described as 120 over 80), the systolic measurement is 120.
  2. Diastolic: The diastolic number represents the pressure against the arterial walls when your heart is at rest briefly, between heart beats. This is the bottom number in the reading. Using the same example, if your blood pressure is 120 over 80, the diastolic measurement is 80.

A normal adult blood pressure measurement is at or below 130 over 85. A reading above 140/90 is considered high, and consultation from your doctor is necessary.

What are the warning signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?

In most cases, high blood pressure does not cause any symptoms. Many people assume that it is related to high levels of stress, tension, and nervousness, but the truth is you can be a very relaxed, easy-going person and still have high blood pressure.

The only way to know if you are hypertensive is to have your blood pressure checked by your doctor. This should be done routinely. Sparrow Hospital recommends that you visit your family physician at least every two years to have your blood pressure checked if it is normal. High blood pressure can develop over time, and there are many treatment options available to manage the disease. Prompt treatment can reduce, your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure.

How is high blood pressure detected?

High blood pressure is detected using a blood pressure monitoring device called a sphygmomanometer. Blood pressure varies constantly; so, if your doctor detects high blood pressure on one occasion, he or she will usually take another couple of readings to ensure the measurement is accurate. You may be asked by your doctor to purchase a home B/P monitoring device.

What are the treatment options for high blood pressure?

Your doctor will discuss with you a variety of ways to control and/or lower your blood pressure.

As with all cardiovascular risk factors, lifestyle changes are sensible, effective ways to reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. To reduce blood pressure in particular, it is essential to:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat a well-balanced diet low in salt, fat and cholesterol
  • Manage stress levels
  • Control your weight
  • Reduce caffeine and other stimulants

For more information about how to change your lifestyle, click here and learn more about prevention of cardiovascular disease.

In some cases, lifestyle changes will not achieve the required results. In this situation, your doctor may discuss medications and/or procedures that can help to reduce your blood pressure.


  • Adrenergic Receptive Blockers (Beta blockers) help regulate the heart beat and decrease oxygen demand, lower B/P, protect against heart attack and heart failure
  • Diuretics remove excess fluid from the body
  • Calcium channel blockers decrease heart contractility and spasms, dilate arteries, help to treat high B/P and angina
  • Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors dilate blood vessels to increase blood flow, guard against arteriosclerosis (plaque in the arteries), help strengthen heart muscles, lower B/P
  • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow
  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Active Agents reduce nerve activity which can cause B/P to rise