High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries as it circulates in the body. High blood pressure occurs when blood vessels become narrow or stiff, forcing the heart to pump harder to push blood through the body. High blood pressure or hypertension is when the force of the blood against the artery walls becomes too high.


Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff around the upper arm. This cuff is pumped up and then let down while listening for the pulse sound. Blood pressure is measured as two numbers—an upper number (systolic pressure) and a bottom number (diastolic pressure). The systolic pressure is the pressure when the heart is beating. The diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.

A person can have high blood pressure for years without ever knowing it. The only way to tell if a person's blood pressure is too high is to have it measured.

Blood pressure should be checked at least once a year by a doctor or medical healthcare provider. It is important to follow the recommendations of a doctor or clinic staff regarding how often blood pressure should be checked, especially if it is too high or too low.


Blood pressure can be affected when a person does not exercise, is overweight or overuses salt or alcohol. Members of certain racial groups and individuals who have family members with high blood pressure are at higher risk for developing blood pressure problems.

High blood pressure is more common in men than women for people under the age of 45. Between ages 45 and 54 the risk is equal for both men and women. After age 54, more women than men are reported to have high blood pressure.

Is It a Problem?

A person with undetected high blood pressure may not feel ill or even have any symptoms.  Undetected high blood pressure is a serious problem because it can damage the kidneys and other organs in the body. Over time, blood pressure that is too high can add to the workload of the heart. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can also increase the risk for having a stroke. Blood pressure that is under control lowers the risk of developing these complications.


Although high blood pressure cannot be cured, it can be controlled. A doctor or healthcare provider will recommend a blood pressure goal and a treatment plan that is specific for a person based on the results of both laboratory tests and a physical exam.

The doctor may ask the individual to make certain changes in their lifestyle, especially diet. A person can ask for a referral to a dietitian for help. A dietitian is a specialist who can explain the best ways to eat in a way that is healthier. Dietitians can help a person understand nutrition information and food labels, portion size and meal planning. A dietitian can also recommend spices/seasonings, cooking methods or help to change favorite recipes to make them healthier. Family members who help with grocery shopping or cooking should join in the visits with the dietitian. The services of a registered dietitian may be covered by health insurance.

A doctor can recommend an exercise routine that can help with weight loss or overall personal fitness/health. Doctors and clinic staff also have information and resources about tobacco use and how to quit smoking. Smoking along with high blood pressure increase the risk of complications such as heart attack and strokes.

In addition to diet and exercise, medicine may be needed to get blood pressure under control. Often a combination of different medicines will be needed. It is important to fill all prescriptions and to take medicine exactly as the doctor recommends.

A pharmacist is also a professional who can answer questions about prescription medicine, side effects or even how to remember to take the medicine on a certain schedule. It is important to talk to the pharmacist when purchasing vitamins, supplements or over-the-counter products for colds, cough, pain or sleep. The pharmacist understands what medicine and products should not be used together.

It is very important to contact your doctor or healthcare provider immediately if there are any side effects like headaches, dizziness, tiredness, palpitations, ankle swelling or sexual problems. Never change the way a medication is taken without first asking the doctor or clinic medical staff. Never abruptly stop taking any prescription medication.

Ask the doctor or clinic staff about the benefits of purchasing and using a blood pressure machine to monitor blood pressure at home.

Free Resources

Smoking cessation (quitting):Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-784-8669 or 1-800-QUITNOW.

Medical identification necklace or bracelet: FREE OF CHARGE to adults living with high blood pressure. (Residents of Wisconsin only, please.) Download the form and mail to the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin.

Brochure: HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE - to order call 414-897-8669 or email:

Living Well with Chronic Conditions (local self-management classes). Meet other people or caregivers who want to learn how to better manage living with a chronic health condition. Classes available in most Wisconsin counties throughout the year. Class leaders are trained healthcare professionals and individuals who are personally living with one or more chronic diseases. Many of these classes are offered free of charge or have scholarship assistance available. Visit: https://wihealthyaging.org/workshops for a schedule and local classes. (These workshops are listed as "Living.")

Last updated: September 1, 2017