What is High Blood Pressure and Vascular Disease?

highbpHigh Blood Pressure (HBP) or hypertension is a persistent abnormal elevation of the pressure within the arteries which deliver blood to the entire body. An adult’s blood pressure is calculated by using two numbers. The heart’s rhythmic pumping action creates the upper systolic pressure (normal is 120 mm. Hg. or lower) and its resting pressure between heart beats is the lower diastolic pressure (normal is 80 mm. Hg. or lower). There are four stages of high blood pressure or hypertension:

  • STAGE 1 – Systolic is 130-139 or diastolic is 80-89
  • STAGE 2 – Systolic is greater than 140 or diastolic is greater than 90

If your blood pressure is in the prehypertension range, it is likely that you will end up with high blood pressure unless you take action to prevent it. High blood pressure needs to be treated because it can lead to kidney failure, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and blindness.


In most cases, it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact cause of high blood pressure. There are, however, a number of factors that have been linked to high blood pressure including:

  • A family history of high blood pressure.
  • Age – The incidence of high blood pressure rises in men after age 35 and in women after age 45.
  • Gender – Men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women.
  • Smoking – Those who smoke are at an increased risk of having high blood pressure.
  • Race – Approximately 33% of African-Americans have high blood pressure, compared to 25% of Caucasians.

Unfortunately, the cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) in 90-95% of the cases is unknown. The medical term for this kind of high blood pressure is primary or essential hypertension.

Secondary hypertension has an identifiable cause. One of the most important causes of secondary hypertension is the narrowing (stenosis) of arteries to the kidneys (renal arteries). Renal artery stenosis causes about 5% of all cases of hypertension and can reduce kidney size. Learn more about Kidney Failure and Vascular Disease.

Warning Signs

High Blood Pressure (HBP) or hypertension is often referred to as the “silent killer” because there are no symptoms. Many people do not find out that they have high blood pressure until they have problems with their heart, kidney, or brain. Hypertension has been shown to increase the rates of kidney failure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and strokes.

Treatment & Prevention

High blood pressure affects more than 50 million Americans 60 years of age and older. One in three adults has high blood pressure. Approximately half of all these patients use medications to lower their blood pressure, but only half of these have their blood pressure under control. You can lower your risk of high blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight (BMI less than 30)
  • Reducing the quantity of salt and saturated fats in your diet and eating more whole grains, fruits and green vegetables
  • Increasing physical activity (30 minutes of exercise daily)
  • Eliminating tobacco use
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women
  • Building relaxation into your workday

Patients with Stage 1 Hypertension may be treated with lifestyle modifications (exercise, diet, etc.) alone. Patients with Stage 2 Hypertension are typically treated with a combination of lifestyle medications and medications prescribed by your doctor.

You can also work with your doctor to achieve good blood pressure control by:

  • Knowing your blood pressure. If either the upper level (systolic pressure) or lower level (diastolic pressure) goes persistently beyond the normal limit of 140/90, consult with your physician.
  • Monitoring your blood pressure regularly, and keep a written record to share with your doctor.
  • Taking medications as instructed.
  • Going to the emergency room if you notice a blood pressure greater than 180/120, chest pain, shortness of breath, or changes in vision.

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Health-related information on this website including text, graphics, images, and other material is for educational purposes only and therefore not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Page last updated 14 March 2020.