Hypertension Defined


Lt Col Reynolds
It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly because there are no apparent symptoms associated with the early stages of hypertension. The only way to diagnose hypertension is having your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. Dr. Phillips, can you tell us a little bit more about high blood pressure?

Dr. Phillips
Sure, Dr. Reynolds. Optimal, or normal, blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is an indication of prehypertension, which means you are at greater risk of developing hypertension. In order to be diagnosed with hypertension, your blood pressure must measure higher than 140/90. For people 60 or older, treatment is initiated when blood pressure measures higher than 150/90.

If you do get a single reading that shows your blood pressure is high, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have hypertension. Illness, injury, caffeine intake, and exercise are just a few things that can temporarily increase your blood pressure. Your provider should take your blood pressure at least twice during your visit and check it again one to four weeks later before diagnosing you with hypertension.

There is also a phenomenon known as the white coat effect, where people feel anxious having their blood pressure taken in their provider’s office. This anxiety can cause blood pressure to temporarily increase. If you or your provider suspect that you may be experiencing the white coat effect, you may be asked to monitor your blood pressure at home over a period of time to get an accurate reading.

It’s also possible to have low blood pressure, or hypotension. Typically, there’s no exact number at which your blood pressure is considered too low unless it’s accompanied by certain symptoms. If you have low blood pressure and you experience dizziness or lightheadedness, fainting, dehydration, lack of concentration, blurred vision, and fatigue, your provider will screen for possible underlying causes.

Even if your blood pressure has always been normal, be sure to get it checked once every two years. If you have prehypertension, or if you have a family history of high blood pressure, you’re at higher risk and should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year.