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High blood pressure

A normal blood pressure helps your organs get the nourishing blood they need to help you thrive. Learn what you can do.

A pharmacist measuring a mature man's blood pressure using specialist equipment.

Blood pressure is what helps your blood travel from your heart throughout your body.

When it’s too high—your heart is forced to work overtime to push the blood through your arteries and deliver it to your organs. Taxing your heart day after day, year after year can have disastrous results like heart disease, debilitating stroke or even death.

When it’s too low—your blood flow gets sluggish and your organs don’t get the oxygen they need. That can result in dizziness, falls, and potentially brain and heart damage.

When it’s just right—your organs get all the blood they need without unduly taxing your heart.

What’s the ideal blood pressure?

120 over 80 (120/80) or less.

The top number = systolic pressure shows how hard the blood pushes when the heart is pumping.

The bottom number = diastolic pressure indicates how hard the blood pushes between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure? And how high is too high?

That’s the problem—there aren’t usually symptoms, which is how high blood pressure earned a reputation as the silent killer. Most people don’t know their blood pressure is elevated until they go to the doctor for other reasons.

A one-time elevated blood pressure isn’t necessarily cause for concern. However, over time, sustained high blood pressure leads to stroke, heart attack or kidney damage—even death. If your blood pressure is consistently above 120/80, you and your doctor should create a treatment plan.

Very high blood pressure (above 180/120) will cause severe headache, potential vision problems and elevated heart rate—signs of a potential stroke or heart attack. It should be treated as a medical emergency.

Take control of what you can

Blood pressure risk factors are partially determined by your genes, but many are related to lifestyle. The following strategies will help you manage the things you can control.

  • Know your numbers—measure your blood pressure at the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy and at home
    NOTE: Short video describes how to get an accurate BP reading
  • Look for opportunities to incorporate healthy lifestyle changes
  • Stay at a healthy weight or lose extra weight
  • Eat heart-healthy foods and limit sodium
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women
  • Follow your doctor’s treatment plan, if you have one

You can do this—and we can help. If you’re insured by BCBSND, supplement your doctor’s care by using your free access to the HealthyBlue online wellness center to help you take control of your blood pressure—and your overall health.