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What Is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is higher than normal. 

Healthy arteries expand (stretch) as more blood comes through, then contract (shrink) in between heartbeats when blood flow is lower. When you get older, your arteries lose some of their elasticity and do not stretch as well. Plaque from cholesterol can also stick to the walls of your arteries. As more plaque builds up, there is less room for blood to flow through your arteries. As a result, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, which increases the pressure on your artery walls.

Over time, high blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and can lead to serious health conditions, including stroke and heart attack.

Signs of High Blood Pressure

Most people have no symptoms of high blood pressure. Doctors often call hypertension the “silent killer” because you may not know you have it until you experience another serious health issue, such as a heart attack or stroke. The only way to know for sure if you have high blood pressure is to get it measured.

Someone with severe high blood pressure may have:

  • headache, 
  • shortness of breath, and 
  • nosebleeds. 

However, these symptoms could also be related to something other than hypertension. 

High Blood Pressure Awareness

John Ryan, MD, talks about high blood pressure and gives you tips on how to manage it.

When to See a Doctor for High Blood Pressure

Everyone should schedule an annual wellness visit with their doctor. Your doctor will measure your blood pressure and other important vital signs, recommend preventive screenings, and address any questions you have about your health.

If you think you have high blood pressure — because you have one or more risk factors, or you measured your own blood pressure and it was high — schedule an appointment to see one of our cardiologists.

If your blood pressure is near or above 180/90, go to an emergency room immediately or call 911 to get help.

Find a Hypertension Specialist Near You

How to Read Your Blood Pressure Measurements

Doctors measure blood pressure in two separate numbers:

  • Systolic pressure — The first number in a blood pressure reading that shows how much pressure is on your arteries when the heart muscle contracts and pushes blood out into your body. 
  • Diastolic pressure — The second number in a blood pressure reading indicating how much pressure is on your arteries when your heart is resting. 

Doctors measure and provide blood pressure results with two numbers, pronounced as the systolic “over” the diastolic pressure. For example, 120 over 80 would be written as 120/80.

How to Check Your Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure can be measured by:

  • a medical provider.
  • an at-home blood pressure monitor.
  • a blood pressure machine at a retail store, such as a pharmacy.

High Blood Pressure Tests

If your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure, they may recommend additional testing or monitoring. These tests can help determine if there is an underlying cause and figure out the best options for treatment.

Common tests include:

  • Ambulatory monitoring — A test that measures blood pressure multiple times over a 24-hour period. This provides a more accurate measurement of your blood pressure than a single blood pressure monitoring test.
  • Echocardiogram — A test to diagnose other symptoms of heart disease using sound waves. Not everyone with high blood pressure will need this test.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) — A test to measure your heart’s electrical activity.
  • Lab tests — Our providers may recommend a urinalysis and blood tests to measure cholesterol levels.

High Blood Pressure Treatment

Our providers may recommend lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure, such as:

  • eating a healthy diet that is low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium;
  • increasing exercise and physical activity;
  • losing weight if you are overweight or obese, and maintaining a healthy weight;
  • quitting tobacco if you currently smoke or chew tobacco; and
  • limiting how much alcohol you drink.

Blood Pressure Medications

Sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough to lower blood pressure to a safe level. Our providers may also prescribe blood pressure medication to treat hypertension.

The most common medications are:

  • Diuretics — These medications help your kidneys flush sodium and water out of your body. They are commonly called “water pills” because they can increase urination (needing to pee).
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors — These medications disrupt your body’s process of converting angiotensin I to angiotensin II (which narrows blood vessels by causing them to constrict, or tighten). Without angiotensin II your blood vessels can relax, lowering blood pressure.
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) — With these medications your body still converts angiotensin I to angiotensin II, but the drugs block the angiotensin II from binding to your blood vessels so they do not constrict (tighten).
  • Calcium channel blockers — These medications may slow your heart rate and relax the muscles in your blood vessels. 

There are other medications prescribed on their own or in combination if these common drugs do not work to lower your blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure Complications

Untreated high blood pressure over a long period of time can lead to several health conditions and complications:

Diagnosing high blood pressure as early as possible and getting treatment is the best way to avoid serious health complications.

Why Choose U Of U Health for Hypertension Treatment?

University of Utah Health has advanced treatment options for people with hypertension. As an academic hospital, our providers stay updated on the latest research and treatments to help people lower blood pressure. Our providers treat patients with chronic (long-term) high blood pressure.

Our team of specialists includes cardiologists with advanced knowledge of hypertension. They work with other specialists to provide leading-edge treatments to lower blood pressure, including:

Services We Provide

  • Individual evaluation—Our evaluations give you the best options for treating your high blood pressure. We see all kinds of patients, whether you are referred by your primary care provider or another specialist, or because you have personal concerns about your blood pressure.
  • 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring studies—These studies give our providers the best information about your blood pressure, such as blood pressure changes at night or in the morning. Our blood pressure monitoring studies also provide the most accurate estimate of your true blood pressure.
  • Home blood pressure monitoring training—Our providers can teach you how to monitor your blood pressure at home or outside of the clinic.

Schedule an Appointment

Call 801-585-7676 to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists. Patients do not need a referral to see our hypertension specialists. However, some insurance plans may require a referral from a primary care provider to see a specialist. Contact your insurance carrier with questions about the requirements under your specific plan.

Hear From Our Specialists