Blood Pressure Basics
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carry the blood throughout the body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body and it contributes to hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis.
What Is "Normal" Blood Pressure?
There are several categories of blood pressure, including:

* Normal: Less than 120/80
* Prehypertension: 120-139/80-89
* Stage 1 hypertension: 140-159/90-99
* Stage 2 hypertension: 160 and above/100 and above

People whose blood pressure is above the normal range should consult their doctor about methods for lowering it.
What Causes Hypertension?
The exact causes of hypertension are not known. Several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, including:

* Smoking
* Obesity
* Lack of physical activity
* Too much salt in the diet
* Too much alcohol consumption (no more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
* Stress
* Older age
* Genetics

What Are the Symptoms of Hypertension?
There are usually no symptoms or signs of hypertension. In fact, nearly one-third of those who have it don't know it. The only way to know if you have hypertension definitely is to have your blood pressure checked.
If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:

* Severe headache
* Fatigue or confusion
* Vision problems
* Chest pain
* Difficulty breathing
* Irregular heartbeat
* Blood in the urine

Who Is More Likely to Develop Hypertension?

* People with family members who have high blood pressure.
* People who smoke.
* African-Americans.
* Women who are pregnant.
* Women who take birth control pills.
* People over the age of 35.
* People who are overweight or obese.
* People who are not active.
* People who drink alcohol.
* People who eat too many fatty foods or foods with too much salt.

How Is Hypertension Diagnosed?
Your health care provider can tell if you have hypertension by checking your blood pressure with a special meter called a sphygmomanometer, which consists of a stethoscope, arm cuff, dial, pump, and valve. You can also measure your own blood pressure at home. You should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year to make sure you don't have hypertension.