You can have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and still feel just fine. That’s because high blood pressure does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. But, high blood pressure, sometimes called “the silent killer,” is a major health problem. If high blood pressure isn’t controlled with lifestyle changes and medicine, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, eye problems, or kidney failure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries. When the doctor measures your blood pressure, the results are given in two numbers. The first number, called systolic pressure,measures the pressure when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic pressure, measures the pressure while your heart relaxes between beats. Normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80.
One reason to have regular visits to the doctor is to have your blood pressure checked. The doctor will say your blood pressure is high when it measures 140/90 or higher at two or more checkups. He or she may ask you to check your blood pressure at home at different times of the day. If the pressure stays high, the doctor may suggest medicine, changes in your diet, and exercise.
|Normal Blood Pressure||Less than 120||Less than 80|
|Prehypertension||Between 120–139||Between 80–89|
|High Blood Pressure||140 or more||90 or more|
|Isolated Systolic Hypertension||140 or more||Less than 90|
You could have prehypertension if your blood pressure is only slightly higher than normal—for example, the first number (systolic) is between 120 and 139, or the second number (diastolic) is between 80 and 89. Prehypertension can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure. Your doctor will probably want you to make changes in your day-to-day habits to try to lower your blood pressure.
For older people, the first number (systolic) often is 140 or greater, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 90. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension. Isolated systolic hypertension is the most common form of high blood pressure in older people, and it can lead to serious health problems. It is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure. If your systolic pressure is 140 or higher, ask your doctor how you can lower it.
Anyone can get high blood pressure. But, some people have a greater chance of having it because of things they can’t change. These are:
More than half of Americans over age 60 and about three-fourths of those 70 years of age and older have high blood pressure. The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled in most people. To start, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of high blood pressure, including:
If these lifestyle changes don’t control your high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medicine. You may try several kinds before finding the one that works best for you. Medicine can control your blood pressure, but it can’t cure it. You may need to take medicine for the rest of your life. You and your doctor can plan together how to manage your blood pressure.
High blood pressure is serious because it can lead to major health problems. If you have high blood pressure, remember:
If your doctor asks you to take your blood pressure at home, keep in mind:
Here are some helpful resources:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Health Information Center
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
National Library of Medicine
Search for: “High Blood Pressure”
American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
For more information on health and aging, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Publication Date: December 2011
Page Last Updated: April 30, 2013