Printer Friendly Bookmark this page Font Sizedecreaseincrease

High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition where the pressure of blood flowing against the walls of the arteries is higher than normal. Everyone’s blood pressure fluctuates up and down throughout the day, but chronic high blood pressure is a serious health risk that afflicts both young and old alike. It has no symptoms and is called “the silent killer.” It can happen to anyone; even thin people. But overweight people are much more at risk for this condition, as well as blood containing too much fat, cholesterol, and triglycerides which can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. The good news is that sometimes weight loss alone can reduce blood pressure. The risks of hypertension are very good reasons to be concerned if you are overweight. Please see the articles below for more insight into hypertension and what you can do about it. The books and products offered here can help you maintain control of your blood pressure.


Protect Your Heart!
Prevent High Blood Pressure

National Institutes of Health
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
And Office of Research on Minority Health


What is blood pressure?

Is high blood pressure really a big deal?

Know your number.

Prevent high blood pressure.

Lower your high blood pressure.

Anyone can develop high blood pressure, also called hypertension. African Americans are at higher risk for this serious disease than any other race or ethnic group. High blood pressure tends to be more common, happens at an earlier age, and is more severe for many African Americans. The good news is that high blood pressure can be controlled‹and better yet, it can be prevented!

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against your blood vessels. Your blood pressure is at its greatest when your heart contracts and is pumping blood. This is systolic blood pressure. When your heart rests between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic blood pressure. Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers: the systolic and diastolic pressures. The numbers are usually written one above or before the other, with systolic first, for example, 120/80.

[Back to Contents]

Is high blood pressure really a big deal?

YES! When your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder than it should to pump blood to all parts of the body. High blood pressure is called the "silent killer" because most people feel healthy and donšt even know that they have it. If it is not treated, high blood pressure can cause:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • kidney problems
  • eye problems
  • death

[Back to Contents]

Know your number.

  • Have your blood pressure checked. It is easy, quick, and painless.

  • Your blood pressure should be checked by your health care provider at least once each year.

  • If you have high blood pressure, it should be checked more often. You can have your blood pressure checked at your doctoršs office, your neighborhood clinic, health fairs at your church, or some shopping malls.

Check below to see where you fit in.

Blood pressure categories (adults age 18 and over)
Category Systolic (mm/Hg) Diastolic (mm/Hg)
Normal 130 or less 85 or less
High normal 130 -139 85 - 89
High blood pressure 140 or more 90 or more
Strive for an optimal blood pressure of 120/80 or less.

[Back to Contents]

Prevent high blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is not high now, take steps to prevent it from becoming high. Herešs how:

Aim for a healthy weight.

  • Choose foods lower in fat and calories.

  • Eat smaller portions.

  • Try not to gain extra weight. Lose weight if you are overweight. Try losing weight slowly, about 1/2 to 1 pound each week until you reach a healthy weight.

  • Be physically active every day.


Eat less salt and sodium.

  • Read the food label. Choose foods with less salt and sodium.

  • Prepare lower sodium meals from scratch instead of using convenience foods that are high in sodium.

  • Use spices, herbs, and salt free seasoning blends instead of salt.

  • Use only small amounts of cured or smoked meats for flavor.

  • Use less salt when cooking.


What else can you do? Add spice to your life.

When you cook, try adding herbs and spices instead of salt.

Poultry, Fish, Meat:

Poultry Ginger, rosemary, thyme, curry powder, dill, sage, tarragon, oregano, cloves, orange rind
Fish Curry powder, pepper, lemon juice, ginger, marjoram, onion, paprika
Pork Garlic, onion, sage, ginger, curry, cloves, bay leaf, oregano


Greens Thyme, ginger, onion, dill, garlic
Potatoes Garlic, pepper, paprika, thyme, onion, sage
Beans Thyme, onion, dill, cumin, oregano, garlic, tarragon, rosemary
Okra Garlic, pepper, thyme, onion

Eat more fruits and vegetables.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables in meals and as snacks.
  • Add more vegetables to stews and casseroles.
  • Serve fruit as a dessert more often.

Be active every day.

  • Walk a little further each day or walk to the bus stop.
  • Dance, skip, jump, run . . . take every opportunity to move your body.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.

Cut back on alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol raises blood pressure. Alcohol also adds calories and may make it harder to lose weight. Men who drink should have no more than two drinks a day. Women who drink should have no more than one drink a day. Pregnant women should not drink any alcohol.

[Back to Contents]

Lower your high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, you may be able to lower or keep your high blood pressure down. Practice these steps.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be more active every day.
  • Eat fewer foods high in salt and sodium.
  • Cut back on alcoholic beverages.

You may also need medicine to lower your high blood pressure. Tell your doctor about any medicine you are already taking.

Follow these tips if you take medicine:

  • Take your medicine the way your doctor tells you. To help you remember, plan to take your medicine at the same time every day.
  • Tell the doctor right away if the medicine makes you feel strange or sick. The doctor may make changes in your medicine.
  • Make sure you donšt miss any days. Refill your prescription before you use up your medicine.
  • Have your blood pressure checked often to be sure your medicine is working the way you and your doctor planned.
  • Donšt stop taking your medicine if your blood pressure is okay--that means the medicine is working.

Empower yourself!

Keep a record of your blood pressure.
Reading       /          /          /           /           /           /           /   
Goal _______________________________________

Check what you will do to prevent or lower your high blood pressure. Try to do them all.
Check box

Maintain a healthy weight.

Check box

Be more active every day.

Check box

Eat fewer foods high in salt and sodium.

Check box

Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Check box

Cut back on the number of alcoholic beverages, if you drink.

Check box

Have blood pressure checked.

Check box

Take medicine the way the doctor says.

Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
NIH Publication No. 97-4062
September 1997

[Back to Contents]


Diabetes and High Blood Pressure

About Diabetes and High Blood Pressure...

Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar levels are above normal. This high blood sugar can damage many parts of the body, such as the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.

High blood pressure occurs commonly in people with diabetes. Individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, as are those without diabetes. Having both high blood pressure and high blood sugar increases your risk for heart and blood vessel damage, which may lead to chest pain (angina), heart attacks, weakened heart muscles (called cardiomyopathy [KAR-dee-oh-my-OP-uh-thee]), stroke, and kidney problems. Blood vessels become clogged with cholesterol, which causes them to be narrower than normal. Narrowed blood vessels lead to high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure can cause kidney damage and having kidney damage can increase blood pressure, so both problems become worse. Narrowed blood vessels can also lead to problems with blood flow in legs and feet, called peripheral vascular disease.

Between 35 and 75% of all complications associated with diabetes can be attributed to high blood pressure.

What increases my risk for diabetes and high blood pressure?

  • Being black or Hispanic. Blacks are twice as likely and Hispanics are three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have both diabetes and high blood pressure.

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with either problem

  • Being inactive, exercising less than 3 times a week

What can I do to decrease my chance of developing problems from high blood pressure and diabetes?

  • Keep your blood sugar as close to normal as you can.

  • Keep your blood pressure below 130/85. If you need medicines to lower your blood pressure, talk with your doctor about the best ones for you.

  • Keep your cholesterol and other blood fats as close to normal as you can.

  • Follow the healthy eating plan worked out with your dietitian and doctor. Eat meals and snacks around the same times each day.

  • Be active at least 30 minutes each day. Use stairs, park farther from the shopping center, walk, swim, do housework or garden.

  • Talk to your doctor about the best activities for you.

  • Take your diabetes and blood pressure medicines at the same times each day.

  • Ask your doctor if you should take an aspirin each day to help protect your heart.

  • Don't smoke.

  • Get to a healthy weight.

  • Tell your doctor right away if you think you have any signs of heart or blood vessel problems. Symptoms of heart and blood vessel problems can be shortness of breath; dizziness; pain in the chest, arms, shoulder, or back; sudden loss of sight; trouble talking; or numbness or weakness in one arm or one leg. You also may feel very tired and have swollen ankles or feet.




High Blood Pressure and Kidney Disease

Your kidneys play a key role in keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range, and blood pressure, in turn, can affect the health of your kidneys. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can damage the kidneys.


What is high blood pressure?

Diagram of three blood vessels and the blood pressure level
Hypertension can result from too much fluid in normal blood vessels or from normal fluid in narrow blood vessels.

Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels. Blood pressure that remains high over time is called hypertension. Extra fluid in your body increases the amount of fluid in your blood vessels and makes your blood pressure higher. Narrow or clogged blood vessels also raise blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, see your doctor regularly.


How does high blood pressure hurt my kidneys?

High blood pressure makes your heart work harder and, over time, can damage blood vessels throughout your body. If the blood vessels in your kidneys are damaged, they may stop removing wastes and extra fluid from your body. The extra fluid in your blood vessels may then raise blood pressure even more. It’s a dangerous cycle.

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney failure, also commonly called end-stage renal disease (ESRD). People with kidney failure must either receive a kidney transplant or go on dialysis. Every year, high blood pressure causes more than 15,000 new cases of kidney failure in the United States.


How will I know whether I have high blood pressure?

Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms. The only way to know whether your blood pressure is high is to have a health professional measure it with a blood pressure cuff. The result is expressed as two numbers. The top number, which is called the systolic pressure, represents the pressure when your heart is beating. The bottom number, which is called the diastolic pressure, shows the pressure when your heart is resting between beats. Your blood pressure is considered normal if it stays below 120/80 (expressed as "120 over 80"). People with asystolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 or a diastolic blood pressure of 80 to 89 are considered prehypertensive and should adopt health-promoting lifestyle changes to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels.


How will I know whether I have kidney damage?

Kidney damage, like hypertension, can be unnoticeable and detected only through medical tests. Blood tests will show whether your kidneys are removing wastes efficiently. Your doctor may refer to tests for serum creatinine and BUN, which stands for blood urea nitrogen. Having too much creatinine and urea nitrogen in your blood is a sign that you have kidney damage.

Another sign is proteinuria, or protein in your urine. Proteinuria has also been shown to be associated with heart disease and damaged blood vessels.


How can I prevent high blood pressure from damaging my kidneys?

If you have kidney damage, you should keep your blood pressure below 130/80. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recommends that people with kidney disease use whatever therapy is necessary, including lifestyle changes and medicines, to keep their blood pressure below 130/80.

How can I control my blood pressure?

NHLBI has found that five lifestyle changes can help control blood pressure:

  • Maintain your weight at a level close to normal. Choose fruits, vegetables, grains, and low-fat dairy foods.

  • Limit your daily sodium (salt) intake to 2,000 milligrams or lower if you already have high blood pressure. Read nutrition labels on packaged foods to learn how much sodium is in one serving. Keep a sodium diary.

  • Get plenty of exercise, which means at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking, most days of the week.

  • Avoid consuming too much alcohol. Men should limit consumption to two drinks (two 12-ounce servings of beer or two 5-ounce servings of wine or two 1.5-ounce servings of "hard" liquor) a day. Women should have no more than a single serving on a given day because metabolic differences make women more susceptible.

  • Limit caffeine intake.


Are there medicines that can help?

Many people need medicine to control high blood pressure. Two groups of medications called ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers) lower blood pressure and have an added protective effect on the kidney in people with diabetes. Additional studies have shown that ACE inhibitors and ARBs also reduce proteinuria and slow the progression of kidney damage in people who do not have diabetes. You may need to take a combination of two or more blood pressure medicines to stay below 130/80.


What groups are at risk for kidney failure related to high blood pressure?

All racial groups have some risk of developing kidney failure from high blood pressure. African Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives, however, are more likely than whites to have high blood pressure and to develop kidney problems from it--even when their blood pressure is only mildly elevated. In fact, African Americans are six times more likely than whites to develop hypertension-related kidney failure.

People with diabetes also have a substantially increased risk for developing kidney failure. People who are at risk both because of their race and because of diabetes should have early management of high blood pressure.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), also part of NIH, sponsored the African American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension (AASK) to find effective ways to prevent high blood pressure and kidney failure in this population. The results, released in 2003, showed that an ACE inhibitor was better at slowing the progression of kidney disease in African Americans than either of two other drugs.


Hope Through Research

In recent years, researchers have learned a great deal about kidney disease. NIDDK sponsors several programs aimed at understanding kidney failure and finding treatments to stop its progression.

NIDDK’s Division of Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic Diseases supports basic research into normal kidney function and the diseases that impair normal function at the cellular and molecular levels, including diabetes, high blood pressure, glomerulonephritis, and polycystic kidney disease.


For More Information

American Kidney Fund
6110 Executive Boulevard, Suite 1010
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: 1-800-638-8299 or (301) 881-3052

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573

National Kidney Foundation
30 East 33rd Street
New York, NY 10016
Phone: 1-800-622-9010 or (212) 889-2210


National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

3 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3580

The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1987, the clearinghouse provides information about diseases of the kidneys and urologic system to people with kidney and urologic disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NKUDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about kidney and urologic diseases.

Publications produced by the clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This fact sheet was reviewed by Vito M. Campese, M.D., University of Southern California; and Matthew Weir, M.D., University of Maryland

This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

NIH Publication No. 03-4572
July 2003