Blood pressure has two components:
Systolic pressure, the higher number, represents the pressure the heart generates to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Diastolic pressure, the lower number, refers to the pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats.
Usually, systolic pressure increases as we age. However, after age 60, diastolic pressure usually begins to decline because the body's blood vessels stiffen.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. People with a systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 or a diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89 are said to have prehypertension. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is divided into two stages:
Learn more about the symptoms of hypertension ›
Your doctor may prescribe antihypertension medication if your blood pressure is high. There are several kinds of medication commonly taken alone or in combination, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Thiazide diuretics are often the first medications your doctor will try to treat your high blood pressure. They help to lower blood pressure by eliminating excess fluid and salt that accumulate in the body. The excess fluid is eliminated in the urine. Examples of commonly prescribed diuretics are hydrochlorothiazide (Esidrix, Hydrodiuril), chlorothiazide (Diuril), spironolactone (Aldactone), and others.
These keep the heart from pumping too hard by blocking the action of the hormones that normally increase heart rate and blood pumped out from the heart. Examples of commonly prescribed beta blockers are atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), nadolol (Corgard), propranolol (Inderal), and others.
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About one in three American adults has high blood pressure. Having untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems, including coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. Do you have the facts about blood pressure? Low blood pressure isn't anything to worry about.
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can be a concern if it causes symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, or even shock. Dizziness or fainting could lead to a serious fall. Shock, if not treated immediately, could end in death. However, it's true that low blood pressure is actually normal for some people.
Learn more about myths related to blood pressure ›