What Causes High Blood Pressure Levels?

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Filed Under: Blood Pressure, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 03/28/2014

What Causes High Blood Pressure Levels?

Before you can truly understand how to lower high blood pressure levels (hypertension), it’s important to know what blood pressure is and what contributes to it.

Understanding Your Blood Pressure Reading

Your blood pressure reading is made up of two numbers. Both of them refer to the amount of pressure that pulses against the inside of your arteries as blood is pumped through them.

The top number is your systolic pressure. It corresponds to the amount of force created as blood is pumped into your arteries, and they expand. The second number is your diastolic pressure. It signifies the force that results when your arteries contract and resist the flow of blood. Receptors in the kidneys keep track of pressure and send hormone signals to the heart to speed up or slow down as needed.

A normal blood pressure reading is a systolic pressure of less than 120 mmHg over a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mmHg. Prehypertension (pre-high blood pressure) is defined as a systolic reading of 120–139 or a diastolic reading of 80–89. Those with Stage 1 high blood pressure levels (hypertension) have a systolic pressure of 140–159 or a diastolic pressure of 90–99. Stage 2 high blood pressure is a systolic pressure of 160 or higher or a diastolic pressure of 100 or higher. Finally, hypertensive crisis—where emergency care is needed—is defined as a high blood pressure level with a systolic reading of higher than 180 or a diastolic reading of higher than 110. It is estimated that 73 million Americans have high blood pressure levels and uncontrolled high blood pressure.

The Leading Causes of Hypertension

WATCH: Learn How Oxidative Stress in the Arteries Leads to High Blood Pressure Levels

More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Understanding Blood Pressure

What are the symptoms and risk factors associated with high blood pressure levels? Learn why high blood pressure is so dangerous.

How do you know if your blood pressure reading is accurate? Find out the important steps you need to take to get the most accurate blood pressure reading.

Are you a woman with blood pressure concerns? Discover why women are especially susceptible to high blood pressure levels and negative impact on health.

Read questions and answers about high blood pressure levels.

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