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What Is High Blood Pressure and How Can You Prevent It?

When it comes to high blood pressure, there are some things you can’t control. But there are things you can do every day to help manage it—we’ll explain what high blood pressure means and give you some tips for preventing it.

What is high blood pressure? Woman taking someone's blood pressure

You’ve probably heard of blood pressure, but what is it exactly and why is it important? Let’s take a closer look at what it means to have high blood pressure and ways you can prevent it.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. When arteries become narrow, blood pressure inside the arteries increases. This causes high blood pressure, which can damage your arteries, reduce blood flow to organs, and make your heart work harder. If high blood pressure isn’t controlled, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and other health problems. 

Blood pressure is measured with two numbers (120/80, for example). The first number is your systolic pressure (when your heart beats). The second number is your diastolic pressure (when your heart rests between beats). Your doctor will check your blood pressure several times to determine if you have high blood pressure.  

Are there symptoms of high blood pressure?  

People with high blood pressure rarely have symptoms, though in some cases it may cause dizziness, headaches, or nose bleeds. Because there are typically no symptoms, you should have your blood pressure checked regularly.

The table below shows the numbers for normal to high blood pressure readings.


BP Category





less than 120


less than 80


120 to 129


less than 80

Stage 1 High

130 to 139


80 to 89

Stage 2 High

140 or higher


90 or higher

How to Control Your High Blood Pressure


What causes it?

Blood pressure may increase as you age. Some risk factors can increase your risk for high blood pressure such as family history, age, and race. But you can help to control it by being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.  

How can I manage high blood pressure?

You may be able to reduce high blood pressure with certain lifestyle changes such as following MAWDS guidelines. MAWDS is an acronym you can use to remember tips for maintaining a healthy blood pressure.  

Medicine – Take your blood pressure medicine as your doctor has prescribed. Even if your blood pressure has reached its goal, it may not stay in a healthy range without medication.  

Activity – Staying active every day is one of the best ways to control blood pressure. People who are active cut their risk in half of getting high blood pressure. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day.

Related: Think You're in the Clear on Blood Pressure? Think Again

Weight – Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure—losing even 5% to 10% of your current weight can lower your risk.  

Diet – Following a healthy eating plan such as the DASH diet, which encourages more fruits and vegetables and limiting salt and sugar, may lower your blood pressure.  

Smoking and Stress – Tobacco use harms your arteries and increases your blood pressure, and continuous stress over months or years can also hurt your body. Quitting tobacco and managing stress can help your blood pressure and improve your health.   

Some people follow a healthy lifestyle and may still have blood pressure because of family history and other uncontrollable factors. If you have questions or concerns about your blood pressure or think you might be at risk for high blood pressure, see your doctor. A doctor can work with you to find the right solution to keeping your blood pressure with normal ranges.   


SelectHealth may link to other websites for your convenience. SelectHealth does not expressly or implicitly recommend or endorse the views, opinions, specific services, or products referenced at other websites linked to the SelectHealth site, unless explicitly stated.

The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.

References: “High Blood Pressure.” Intermountain Healthcare, 2017. Web. 11 Dec. 2018.

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Post Author

Sandy Patton

Sandy is a Marketing Communications Specialist and has been with SelectHealth for 15 years. Her prior roles include health education and wellness coaching.