Almost half of American adults have high blood pressure (source). This includes people who don’t know they have it, young adults, and even people who seem otherwise healthy.

Hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure, is known as the “silent killer.” It doesn’t have obvious symptoms, so many people don’t know they have it. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening events, such as stroke, heart attack, and heart or kidney failure.

Causes of high blood pressure

Risk factors for high blood pressure are varied.

Some contributing factors are out of our control, such as:

  • Family history
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Age
  • Gender

Many contributing factors are in our control, such as:

  • Activity level
  • Alcohol use
  • Food choices
  • Stress level
  • Tobacco use
  • Weight

6 tips to keep your blood pressure down

To achieve or maintain a healthy blood pressure:

  1. See your doctor regularly, to check your blood pressure and review your medications.
  2. Find ways to manage stress.
  3. Reduce unhealthy drinking and smoking habits.
  4. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and foods low in salt.
  5. Exercise and find other ways to stay active.
  6. Maintain a healthy weight.
illustration of a blood pressure cuff showing blood pressure result

Blood pressure reading

Blood pressure is always given as two numbers.

  • Systolic pressure, the top (and higher) number, refers to the pressure of blood in the artery when the heart pumps.
  • Diastolic pressure, the bottom (and lower) number, refers to the pressure of blood in the artery when the heart relaxes between beats.

If your blood pressure reading is 120/80, you say it is “120 over 80.”

What the numbers mean*

Blood pressure category
Systolic mm Hg (upper number)
Diastolic mm Hg (lower number)
Less than 120
Less than 80
Less than 80
High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1
High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2
140 or higher
90 or higher
Hypertensive crisis (consult your doctor immediately)
Higher than 180
Higher than 120

Where to get your blood pressure checked

With so many places to monitor your blood pressure, there’s no reason to let the silent killer sneak up on you. You can get your blood pressure checked:

  • At your primary care provider’s office
  • At a pharmacy with a digital blood pressure measurement machine.
  • At home with a home blood pressure monitor.


Find out more about managing high blood pressure with these resources:

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