Overview

Elevated blood pressure is blood pressure that is slightly higher than what is considered ideal.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association divide blood pressure into four general categories.

  • Normal blood pressure. Blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg or lower.
  • Elevated blood pressure. The top number ranges from 120 to 129 mm Hg and the bottom number is below (not above) 80 mm Hg.
  • Stage 1 hypertension. The top number ranges from 130 to 139 mm Hg or the bottom number is between 80 to 89 mm Hg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension. The top number is 140 mm Hg or higher or the bottom number is 90 mm Hg or higher.

Elevated blood pressure is considered a category, not an actual health condition like high blood pressure (hypertension). But elevated blood pressure tends to get worse over time unless it's properly managed. That's why it's important to regularly check and control your blood pressure. Healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, can help prevent and control high blood pressure (hypertension).

Uncontrolled, elevated blood pressure and hypertension increase the risks of heart attacks and strokes. Some research says long-term elevated blood pressure can lead to changes in memory, language, thinking or judgment (cognitive decline).

Symptoms

Elevated blood pressure doesn't cause symptoms. The only way to detect it is to have regular blood pressure checks. Have your blood pressure measured when you visit your health care provider. You can also check it at home with a home blood pressure monitoring device.

When to see a doctor

A child's blood pressure should be checked during routine well-check appointments starting at age 3. If the child has high blood pressure, a measurement should be taken at every follow-up appointment.

Adults age 18 and older should have a blood pressure check at least every two years. You or your child might need more-frequent checks if you have elevated blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease.

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Causes

Anything that increases pressure on the artery walls can lead to elevated blood pressure. A buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls (atherosclerosis) can cause elevated blood pressure. But the opposite is also true. High blood pressure (hypertension) can cause atherosclerosis.

Sometimes, the cause of the elevated or high blood pressure isn't identified.

Conditions and medications that can cause elevated blood pressure include:

  • Adrenal gland disorders
  • Heart problem affecting blood vessels present at birth (congenital heart defect)
  • Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines
  • Kidney disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Some medications, including birth control pills, cold and sinus medicines, over-the-counter pain relievers containing caffeine, and some prescription drugs
  • Thyroid disease

Talk to your health care provider about all the medicines you take, including those bought without a prescription.

Risk factors

Anyone can have elevated blood pressure, even children.

Risk factors for elevated blood pressure include:

  • Obesity or being overweight. Obesity makes you more likely to have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and strokes.
  • Family history of high blood pressure. You're more likely to develop elevated blood pressure if you have a parent or sibling with the condition.
  • Not being physically active. Not exercising can cause weight gain. Increased weight raises the risk of elevated blood pressure.
  • Diet high in salt (sodium) or low in potassium. Sodium and potassium are two nutrients that the body needs to control blood pressure. If you have too much sodium or too little potassium in your diet, you may develop elevated blood pressure.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco or being around smoke (secondhand smoke) can increase blood pressure.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked with elevated blood pressure, particularly in men.
  • Certain chronic conditions. Kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea, among others, can increase the risk of elevated blood pressure.
  • Age. Simply getting older raises the risk for increased blood pressure.
  • Race. Elevated blood pressure is particularly common among Black people and usually develops at an earlier age than it does in white people.

Although elevated blood pressure and high blood pressure are most common in adults, children can get it, too. For some children, kidney or heart problems can cause high blood pressure. Poor lifestyle habits, such as an unhealthy diet, obesity and lack of exercise, contribute to increased blood pressure in kids.

Complications

Elevated blood pressure can worsen and develop into long-term high blood pressure as a health condition (hypertension). Hypertension can damage body organs. It increases the risk of heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, aneurysms and kidney failure.

Prevention

The same healthy lifestyle changes recommended to treat elevated blood pressure also help prevent it. Eat healthy foods, use less salt, don't smoke, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, avoid or limit alcohol, and manage stress.

Aug. 09, 2022
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