High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and affects 47% of adults in the United States. It occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high and is most often the result of a buildup of fatty plaques inside the blood vessels.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to vascular dementia, stroke, kidney failure, heart failure, aneurysm, and coronary artery disease.
The good news is that maintaining regular physical activity, establishing healthy eating habits, and adopting other healthy lifestyle changes can often manage high blood pressure.
People aged 18 and older with no family history of hypertension or known high blood pressure readings should be screened for high blood pressure every two to five years. Adults aged 40 and older should be screened annually.
Keep reading to learn:
- Common causes of high blood pressure
- Warning signs of hypertension
- How high blood pressure is diagnosed
- The difference between normal, elevated, and high blood pressure ranges
- What to do if you have high blood pressure and diabetes
We’ll also share which lab tests you need to identify high blood pressure, natural ways to safely lower your blood pressure at home, and treatment options.
What are the causes of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure develops over time, so it's crucial to be screened regularly and maximize your treatment options. Here are four common factors that increase your risk of developing high blood pressure:
- Excess weight
Excess fat increases vascular resistance, so your heart must work harder to pump blood to your body. This puts extra strain on your heart muscle, leading to higher blood pressure. Get 150-180 minutes of physical activity per week to lower your risk.
- Poor nutrition
Eating a diet high in salt and saturated fats makes it more difficult for your kidneys to flush toxins and unwanted fluids from your cells, which can lead to increased blood pressure. Reach for heart-healthy foods like whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and a variety of fruits to lower your risk.
- High cholesterol
Cholesterol causes plaque to build up inside your arteries, which makes them hard and narrow. This, in turn, puts excess strain on your heart as it must work harder to pump blood through them. Add foods like oatmeal, apples, prunes, and beans to your diet to keep your body from absorbing cholesterol.
- Type 2 diabetes
Diabetes damages arteries, making them targets for hardening (atherosclerosis). This hardening can cause high blood pressure. People with diabetes can lower their risk of high blood pressure by eating well, exercising, and making healthy lifestyle choices.
People with high blood pressure may also experience sharp, but temporary, rises in their blood pressure. Causes of sudden high blood pressure may include:
- Certain medications (e.g., anti-inflammatories)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Stress or anxiety
- Thyroid issues
If you have hypertension and experience a sudden onset of high blood pressure symptoms (e.g., headache, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, or shortness of breath), seek immediate medical attention.
What are the warning signs of high blood pressure?
Often, high blood pressure has no warning signs or symptoms. In fact, many people don’t even realize they have it. Regularly measuring your blood pressure is the best way to know whether you have hypertension.
Warning signs of high blood pressure may include:
- Blurry or double vision
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
The best way to diagnose high blood pressure is to have it measured. Blood pressure readings are given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and have two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure
This is the top number in the reading and indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your arteries during heartbeats. Normal systolic blood pressure readings are 120 and below.
- Diastolic blood pressure
This is the bottom number in the reading and indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your arteries when your heart rests between beats. Normal diastolic blood pressure readings are 80 and below.
If you have a blood pressure reading above 120/80 mm Hg, you have high blood pressure and should talk to your primary care physician to find out how to lower it safely.
There are four stages of high blood pressure; here’s what they are and what you should do:
- Hypertensive crisis
A 180/110 mm Hg or higher blood pressure reading is considered a "hypersensitive crisis." It's dangerous and requires urgent medical attention.
- Stage II hypertension
A blood pressure reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is considered “severe hypertension.” Severe hypertension increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, or stroke and may cause permanent damage to your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. This often requires multiple prescription medications to lower your blood pressure quickly and avoid further damage. Your doctor will likely recommend a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise to support your medications.
- Stage I hypertension
A blood pressure reading between 130/80 mm Hg and 139/89 mm Hg is considered hypertension and increases your risk of heart disease. Your doctor will likely recommend strict adherence to healthy lifestyle habits and may also prescribe medication to help lower your blood pressure more quickly.
- Elevated blood pressure
A systolic pressure between 120-129 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mm Hg are considered elevated blood pressure and may cause health problems. If left untreated, it will very likely lead to hypertension. Your doctor will probably recommend healthy lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure naturally—before it worsens. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce your risk of future medical problems.
- Normal blood pressure
A systolic pressure between 90-120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure between 60-80 mm Hg are considered normal. However, regular health screenings are essential as high blood pressure is often asymptomatic, making it challenging to diagnose independently.
What if I have both diabetes and high blood pressure?
If you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Diabetes can cause kidney scarring, increasing salt and water retention (and eventually high blood pressure).
People with high blood pressure are more likely to have insulin resistance, increasing their risk of developing diabetes.
Those with diabetes and high blood pressure are four times as likely to develop heart disease as those who do not have either condition.
Here are a few guidelines to follow that will help improve your health, stabilize diabetes complications, and lower your blood pressure naturally:
- Maintain a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
What tests can help me identify high blood pressure?
Without a medical professional or proper monitoring equipment, it can be very difficult to diagnose high blood pressure—or what’s causing it.
However, Ulta Lab Tests offers several accurate and physician-approved lab tests that can help you easily identify the root cause of your hypertension and monitor your progress. Our tests are convenient, affordable, and always confidential.
We offer easy access to various tests that can be administered at any of our diagnostic testing centers across the U.S.
Find out if an underlying medical condition is to blame for your high blood pressure or get a baseline reading of your liver and kidney health with these testing options:
Once you know your levels, you can take the information to your primary care doctor or specialist to determine your next best steps.
Quest Diagnostics conducts all Heart & Cardiovascular tests. Results are typically available within 1-2 business days.
Doctor's orders are never required.
How can I lower my blood pressure and protect my heart?
You can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure, bring blood pressure down to safer levels, or safely manage it by following these healthy lifestyle habits:
Move your body (walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.) for at least 30 minutes five to six times a week.
- Drink water
Stay hydrated to support heart health, blood vessel function, and circulation.
- Eat heart-healthy foods
Fill your plate with a selection of colorful fruits, leafy green vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.
- Reduce alcohol
Limit alcohol intake to two drinks in a day for men and one drink in a day for women (on days when alcohol is consumed).
- Sleep more
Get between seven and nine hours of high-quality sleep per night.
- Quit smoking
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to put your blood pressure into a healthy range, your doctor may also prescribe ACE (angiotensin-converting-enzyme) inhibitors and ARB (angiotensin-receptor-blockers) medications to help relax the veins and arteries, allowing more efficient pumping of the heart.
Common ACE inhibitors include:
Common ARBs include:
Talk to your doctor to find out which medications are right for you.
High blood pressure is a silent killer that can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, or even heart failure if left untreated. If you have a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease or would like to understand what’s causing it, Ulta Lab Tests can help.
We offer everything you need to identify your unique medical condition and monitor your progress with regular testing.