High blood pressure is risky but almost completely preventable.

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
About 65 million American adults—nearly one in three—have high blood pressure. In the United States, high blood pressure occurs more often in African Americans than in Caucasians.

Compared with other groups, African Americans:

  • Tend to get high blood pressure earlier in life
  • Usually have more severe high blood pressure
  • Have a higher death rate from stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure

Many people get high blood pressure as they get older. Over half of all Americans aged 60 and older have high blood pressure. This is not a part of healthy aging. There are things you can do to help keep your blood pressure normal, such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough physical activity.

Your chances of developing high blood pressure are also higher if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Are a man over the age of 45
  • Are a woman over the age of 55
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Have prehypertension (that is, blood pressure in the 120–139/80–89 mmHg range)

Other things that can raise blood pressure include:

  • Eating too much salt
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Not getting enough potassium in your diet
  • Not doing enough physical activity
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Having long-lasting stress
  • Smoking (smoking can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure)

[ pagebreak ]What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is called the silent killer because you can have it for years without knowing it. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured. Using a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope or electronic sensor, your doctor or nurse can take your blood pressure and tell you if it is high.
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Even though high blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms, it is dangerous if it continues over time. It is important to find out whether you have high blood pressure and, if you do, how to keep it under control.

How do you know whether you have high blood pressure?
Only your doctor can tell you whether you have high blood pressure. Most doctors will check your blood pressure several times on different days before deciding that you have high blood pressure. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is given if repeated readings are 140/90 mmHg or higher, or 130/80 mmHg or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Having your blood pressure tested is quick and easy. Your doctor or nurse will use some type of a gauge, a stethoscope (or electronic sensor), and a blood pressure cuff, also called a sphygmomanometer (pronounced sfig-mo-ma-NOM-e-ter).