High blood pressure

High blood pressure is often associated with few or no symptoms. Many people have it for years without knowing it.

However, just because high blood pressure is often symptomless doesn’t mean it’s harmless. In fact, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, causes damage to your arteries, especially those in the kidneys and eyes. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular problems.

High blood pressure is generally a chronic condition. There are two major categories of high blood pressure: secondary hypertension and primary hypertension. Most people have primary hypertension, otherwise known as essential hypertension.

  • Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure that is the direct result of a separate health condition.
  • Primary hypertension is high blood pressure that doesn’t result from a specific cause. Instead, it develops gradually over time. Many such cases are attributed to hereditary factors.

Typically, the only way to know you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure tested.

Rare symptoms and emergency symptoms

Rarely, people with chronic high blood pressure might have symptoms such as:

When symptoms do occur, it’s usually only when blood pressure spikes suddenly and extremely enough to be considered a medical emergency. This is called a hypertensive crisis.

Hypertensive crisis is defined as a blood pressure reading of 180 milligrams of mercury (mm Hg) or above for the systolic pressure (first number) or 120 or above for the diastolic pressure (second number). It’s often caused by skipping medications or secondary high blood pressure.

If you’re checking your own blood pressure and get a reading that high, wait a few minutes and then check again to make sure the first reading was accurate. Other symptoms of a hypertensive crisis may include:

After waiting a few minutes, if your second blood pressure reading is still 180 or above, don’t wait to see whether your blood pressure comes down on its own. Call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

Emergency hypertensive crisis can result in severe complications, including:

High blood pressure during pregnancy

In some cases, high blood pressure can occur during pregnancy. There are several types of high blood pressure disorders in pregnancy. Causes may be due to a number of factors, including:

If high blood pressure occurs during pregnancy after 20 weeks, a condition known as preeclampsia may develop. Severe preeclampsia can cause damage to the organs and brain, which can bring on life-threatening seizures known as eclampsia.

Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include protein in urine samples, intense headaches, and vision changes. Other symptoms are abdominal pain and excessive swelling of the hands and feet.

High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause a premature birth or early detachment of the placenta. It may also require a cesarean delivery.

In most cases, the blood pressure will return to normal after giving birth.

Complications and risks of high blood pressure

Over time, untreated high blood pressure can cause heart disease and related complications such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Other potential problems are:

Treatment for high blood pressure

There are a number of treatments for high blood pressure, ranging from lifestyle changes to weight loss to medication. Doctors will determine the plan based on your level of high blood pressure and its cause.

Dietary changes

Healthy eating is an effective way to help lower high blood pressure, especially if it’s only mildly elevated. It’s often recommended to eat foods low in sodium and salt, and high in potassium.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is one example of a food plan prescribed by doctors to keep blood pressure in order. The focus is on low-sodium and low-cholesterol foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Some heart-healthy foods include:

Foods to limit are:

  • foods and drinks high in sugar
  • red meat
  • fats and sweets

It’s also suggested to not consume excess alcohol while trying to manage high blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks a day. Women should have no more than one drink.


Physical activity is another important lifestyle change for managing high blood pressure. Doing aerobics and cardio for 30 minutes with a goal of five times a week is a simple way to add to a healthy heart routine. These exercises will get the blood pumping.

With good eating and exercise comes a healthy weight. Proper weight management helps lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. Other risks caused by being overweight are also decreased.

Another way to treat high blood pressure is by trying to manage and limit stress. Stress will raise blood pressure. Try different methods of stress relief such as exercise, meditation, or music.


There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat high blood pressure if lifestyle changes alone aren’t helping. Many cases will require up to two different medications.

diureticsAlso called water or fluid pills, diuretics wash out excess fluid and sodium from the body. These are most often used with another pill.
beta-blockersBeta-blockers slow the heartbeat. This helps less blood flow through the blood vessels.
calcium channel blockersCalcium channel blockers relax the blood vessels by blocking calcium from going inside cells.
angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitorsACE inhibitors block hormones that raise blood pressure.
alpha blockers and central acting agentsAlpha blockers relax blood vessels and block hormones that tighten the blood vessels. Central acting agents make the nervous system decrease nerve signals that narrow the blood vessels.

When to see your doctor for high blood pressure

Call your doctor if any of these treatments aren’t working to lower high blood pressure. It can take up to two weeks for a new medication to have its full effect. No change in your blood pressure may mean another treatment is needed, or it can be the result of another problem occurring with the high blood pressure.

You should also call your doctor if you experience:

These can also be the symptoms of something else or a side effect of the medication. In this instance, another medicine may need to be prescribed to replace the one causing discomfort.

Finding a hypertension doctor

Looking for doctors with the most experience treating hypertension? Use the doctor search tool below, powered by our partner Amino. You can find the most experienced doctors, filtered by your insurance, location, and other preferences. Amino can also help book your appointment for free.

Outlook for high blood pressure

Once you have high blood pressure, you are expected to monitor and treat it for the rest of your life. There is a chance the high blood pressure returns to normal with lifestyle changes, but it’s challenging. Both lifestyle changes and medicine are typically needed in order to maintain a goal blood pressure. Treatment will also greatly lower the chance of heart attack, stroke, and other heart disease-related complications.

With careful attention and proper monitoring, you can lead a healthy life.