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Hypertension Clinic

High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too strong. High blood pressure can damage the arteries, heart and kidneys, and lead to atherosclerosis, heart failure, kidney failure and stroke if not detected and treated.

Hypertension is often referred to as the "silent killer'' because it usually does not cause symptoms.

Measuring Blood Pressure

Blood pressure consists of two measurements: systolic and diastolic.

  • The systolic measurement is the pressure of blood against your artery walls when the heart has just finished pumping (contracting). It is the first (or "top") number of a blood pressure reading.

  • The diastolic measurement is the pressure of blood against your artery walls between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood. It is the second (or "bottom") number in a blood pressure reading.

Level Systolic   Diastolic
Normal Less than 120 and Less than 80
Elevated 120-129 and Less than 80
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1 130-139 or 80-89
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2 140 or higher or 90 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis (consult your doctor immediately) Higher than 180 and/or Higher than 120

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

There are several risk factors for high blood pressure. Some can be controlled through lifestyle changes and diet.

  • a family history of high blood pressure

  • aging

  • African American race

  • sodium (salt) intake

  • excessive alcohol consumption

  • low intake of potassium, magnesium and calcium

  • obesity

  • physical inactivity

People who have high blood pressure along with any of the following risk factors are at increased risk of developing complications, such as heart disease, heart attack, abnormal heartbeat, stroke, kidney failure, and eye damage (retinopathy):

  • cigarette smoking

  • high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol

  • diabetes

  • a history of early coronary artery disease in a parent or sibling (before age 45 for men or age 55 for women)

  • obesity

  • lack of exercise

  • enlarged lower left heart chamber (left ventricle)

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart or vascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888.987.2807.