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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 67 million American adults (1 out of 3 adults) have high blood pressure, and that less than half have their condition under control.
With high blood pressure, or hypertension, the arteries may face an increased resistance against the flow of blood. This forces the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. As it often displays no symptoms, hypertension is often described as “the silent killer.” That is why it is so important that patients get their blood pressure checked regularly and be vigilant about managing their blood pressure.
The Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) Division of Cardiovascular Medicine specializes in treating high blood pressure and other risk factors that contribute to the development of heart and vascular disease. For almost a century, our specialists have been delivering innovative and comprehensive care for patients with complex disorders of the heart, blood vessels and circulation. Part of the Heart & Vascular Center, our cardiovascular services span the entire spectrum of patient care, ranging from cardiovascular disease prevention and detection to pharmacologic and interventional treatment. We offer patients personalized care and expertise that includes ongoing communication and education throughout treatment, outpatient care and follow-up.
In some cases, patients with early-stage hypertension may experience headaches, dizziness or nosebleeds. Usually, however, high blood pressure has no symptoms. That is why it is important for patients to have their blood pressure checked regularly by their health care provider.
Blood pressure is commonly measured by a nurse or other health care provider by either an automatic blood pressure cuff or a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope.
Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure:
Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are recorded as "mm Hg" (millimeters of mercury), which represents how high the mercury column in the blood pressure cuff is raised by the pressure of the blood. The following numbers are used to assess normal blood pressure, pre-hypertension and high blood pressure in most adults:
These numbers should only be considered a guide, as a single elevated blood pressure measurement is not necessarily an indication of a problem. A health care provider will want to see multiple blood pressure measurements over several days or weeks before diagnosing high blood pressure and starting treatment.
Everyone should have his or her blood pressure checked at least once a year. People at risk or who have already been diagnosed with hypertension, however, should check their blood pressure more frequently.
Left untreated, hypertension can cause heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure or heart failure. High blood pressure can be improved by lifestyle changes, including:
Sometimes, daily medication is needed to control high blood pressure. A doctor may prescribe:
The BWH Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all cardiovascular patients.
Patients benefit from the teamwork of cardiovascular specialists who work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians and social workers to achieve outstanding outcomes for our patients.
Learn more about hypertension in our health library.
Read questions and answers about high blood pressure.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center where patients and families can access computers and knowledgeable staff.
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