Hypertension is a "silent killer" because of its stealth attack on vital organs. You've probably heard the warnings from your doctor: If you don't effectively control your blood pressure, it'll cause damage throughout your body. You may wind up with a disability, a poor quality of life or even a fatal heart attack.
Don't panic at the prospect of such complications, though. Rather, learn more about them so that you know what's at stake and can gain a better sense of why successfully managing your high blood pressure is so important because the more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure. A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers:
- The top number indicates systolic pressure. This is the amount of pressure your heart generates when pumping blood out through your arteries.
- The bottom number indicates diastolic pressure. This is the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest between beats.
The most recent guidelines for high blood pressure and according to these guidelines, blood pressure for adults is classified as follows:
- Normal blood pressure. Your blood pressure is normal only if it's below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), but some data indicate that 115/75 mm Hg should be the new gold standard. Once your blood pressure rises above that threshold, your risk of cardiovascular disease may begin to increase.
- Prehypertension. Prehypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 139 or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89. If your blood pressure is right at 120/80, you have prehypertension — your blood pressure isn't normal or optimal.
- Stage 1 hypertension. This includes a systolic pressure ranging from 140 to 159 or a diastolic pressure ranging from 90 to 99.
- Stage 2 hypertension. The most severe hypertension, this includes a systolic pressure of 160 or higher or a diastolic pressure of 100 or higher.
Only one of the numbers — the top or the bottom — needs to be high for you to have prehypertension or hypertension.
In 90 percent to 95 percent of high blood pressure cases, there's no identifiable cause. This type of high blood pressure is called essential hypertension or primary hypertension. It differs from secondary hypertension, in which the increased pressure results from another underlying condition, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Adrenal disease
- Thyroid disease
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Preeclampsia — high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy
- Sleep apnea
Certain medications, including birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs, may also cause secondary hypertension.
Secondary hypertension may have a more rapid onset and cause higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension which tend to develop gradually over many years.