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High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Blood pressure is the force your blood is pumping through your vessels.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, makes your heart work harder to push blood through the vessels at a higher pressure

Although most people do not have symptoms, high blood pressure can be dangerous to your health. It puts you at risk for heart attack and heart disease.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What Is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force with which blood is pumping through blood vessels.

It's measured by two numbers: the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure. These show the pressure of blood when your heart contracts and when it's at rest.

High blood pressure (hypertension) causes your heart to work harder than normal to push blood through the vessels at a higher pressure. High blood pressure is above 140/90 mmHg.

High blood pressure risk factors and causes

Some risk factors are out of your control, such as age and race.

But for many people, lifestyle factors lead to an increased risk of hypertension.

Causes of high blood pressure include:

  • Age
  • Americans of African descent
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • High cholesterol
  • High-sodium diet
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Lack of exercise

Complications of high blood pressure

The effects of high blood pressure are dangerous for your overall health, as it puts more strain on your heart.

High blood pressure can:

  • Cause your heart to get bigger over time.
  • Speed up the hardening of arteries that tends to happen with age.
  • Raise the risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.

Why choose UPMC for high blood pressure care?

We offer heart screening programs throughout the community and a full range of services to manage all types of heart conditions.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Diagnosis


Doctors call hypertension a "silent killer" because it damages your body, often without causing symptoms.

If your blood pressure gets dangerously high, it can cause vision problems and headaches.

Diagnosing high blood pressure

Many people learn they have high blood pressure at screening programs or routine doctor visits.

The doctor checks your systolic and diastolic pressure during blood pressure tests and puts it in a range.

Normal blood pressure

  • Systolic: under 120 mmHg
  • Diastolic: under 80 mmHg


  • Systolic: 120 to 129 mmHg
  • Diastolic: under 80 mmHg

Stage 1 hypertension

  • Systolic: 130 to 139 mmHg
  • Diastolic: 80 to 89 mmHg

Stage 2 hypertension

  • Systolic: 140 mmHgor over
  • Diastolic: 90 mmHgor over

Many factors can raise your blood pressure. Your doctor makes the diagnosis of high blood pressure after repeated blood pressure readings at different times.

Make an appointment for high blood pressure

UPMC offers free heart screening programs and events as well as complete care for a range of heart conditions.

High Blood Pressure Treatment

The first step to treat prehypertension and hypertension is to make lifestyle changes. Keeping your blood pressure in check is a lifelong process.

Your doctor will show you how to lower high blood pressure and may also prescribe medicine if lifestyle changes alone aren't enough.

Lifestyle changes to lower your high blood pressure

Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to naturally lower blood pressure.

Your doctor will suggest the following to improve your high blood pressure and overall health:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink a day for women and two for men.

High blood pressure medicine

If you have stage 2 hypertension, you will need medicine to bring your pressure down to a safer level.

If you've tried lifestyle changes and still struggle with high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe drugs.

Sometimes one drug is enough to treat your high blood pressure. In other cases, you may need more than one pill to manage your condition.

Some blood pressure medications include:

  • Diuretics
  • Beta-blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Vasodilators