Nearly half of all American adults have high blood pressure, also called hypertension.
In 2019, more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S. had hypertension as either a primary or secondary cause.
High blood pressure can lead to serious health issues if left untreated, including elevated risks for heart disease and stroke.
In this article, I’ll cover the basics of high blood pressure, methods that can help lower it, and when you should see a doctor.
Blood Pressure Basics
Blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood against the walls of blood vessels.
The pressure comes from the heart pumping blood through the circulatory system.
Your blood pressure level is determined by both the amount of blood your heart pumps through your body’s arteries and the amount of resistance to this blood flow.
When your arteries are healthy, blood flows more easily through your body as the resistance to blood flow is low.
But if your arteries are too narrow or stiff, the resistance to blood flow is higher.
Your heart must then work harder to pump blood through the body—increasing the blood pressure.
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers: Systolic pressure and diastolic pressure, which are represented as a fraction.
The fraction for normal blood pressure is under 120/80 mm Hg.
Systolic refers to the first, or top, number used to calculate your blood pressure.
This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
Diastolic refers to the second, or bottom, number used to measure your blood pressure.
This is the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats.
The systolic number is written over the diastolic number to give you your overall blood pressure.
A healthy blood pressure level is considered to be less than 120/80 mm Hg.
If you are seeing numbers that fluctuate higher than this, particularly beyond 130/80, then you likely have uncontrolled hypertension, or high blood pressure.
There are two stages of hypertension depending on your systolic and diastolic readings.
Hypertension Stage 1: This is categorized by a range of 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. If you have stage one hypertension, your doctor will encourage you to make lifestyle changes and may also prescribe you medication if they feel you are at risk of cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension Stage 2: If your blood pressure consistently measures 140/90 mm Hg or higher, you have stage two hypertension. Your doctor will likely prescribe lifestyle changes and a combination of one or more blood pressure medications.
Methods to Lower Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, there are several ways you can lower it by incorporating necessary changes to your lifestyle.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure.
It is important that you take any prescribed drugs regularly and do not stop taking them, even after your blood pressure comes down, without talking to your doctor.
Here are some common categories of blood pressure-lowering medication:
- Thiazide diuretics: These are known as ‘water pills.’ They work by helping your body expel excess sodium and water through urination. They are often used in conjunction with other medications.
- Beta-blockers: These medications reduce heart rate and the heart’s output of blood, which can ease blood pressure.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: Angiotensin is a chemical that narrows the artery. ACE inhibitors help the body produce less angiotensin. This helps the blood vessels to relax and blood pressure to lower.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs): When your body produces angiotensin, it needs to react with a “receptor”—kind of like the lock a key would go into. ARBs block these receptors. So even though your body produces angiotensin, it doesn’t take effect.
- Calcium channel blockers: These prevent calcium from entering the muscle cells of the heart and arteries. When there are calcium in these cells, your heart pumps harder. So by blocking the calcium, the heart doesn’t pump as forcefully—lowering your blood pressure.
What you eat can have a huge impact on your blood pressure.
Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.
Eating foods with less sodium and salt can also see a drastic improvement.
Scientific studies have found that adopting the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or “DASH diet,” can help you control your blood pressure.
The diet consists of 100% whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and plant-based proteins.
Swapping out fattier meats for leaner, plant-based proteins, and minimizing sugar and dairy intake can vastly improve your blood pressure levels.
Many studies have found a direct correlation between physical exercise and hypertension.
Being physically active for at least 30 minutes per day on most days is one of the most important things you can do to lower your blood pressure.
It doesn’t have to be a high-impact activity—walking, cycling, yoga, or even chores around the house can help control your blood pressure.
Being overweight or obese can put you at a higher risk for high blood pressure. In obese patients, losing 1 kilogram of body weight—about 2.2 pounds—has been associated with drops in systolic pressure by 1.2 mm Hg, and reductions in diastolic pressure by 1.0 mm Hg.
Use a body mass index (BMI) calculator to determine if you are overweight or obese.
Talk to your doctor, or consult with a K doctor, about lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your weight and your blood pressure.
Stress is not just mental.
It’s also how your body reacts to stressful situations—and that includes raising your blood pressure.
If you live a stressful life, over time this can become extremely harmful for your health.
It’s important to develop adequate healthy coping mechanisms for relieving stress to avoid putting yourself at greater risk of hypertension.
Exercise, get adequate sleep, eat fruits and vegetables, and try relaxation techniques to help mitigate stress.
Alcohol can raise your blood pressure if you drink excessively.
Men should not exceed more than two drinks per day, and women should only have one.
Smoking can put you at higher risk for hypertension.
Nicotine raises your blood pressure, and smoke produces carbon dioxide that lowers the oxygen in your blood.
Not only will high-quality sleep improve your stress levels, but it will also help keep your blood pressure in check.
When we sleep, our blood pressure lowers.
So if we do not get enough quality sleep, our blood pressure stays higher for longer—over time, this can lead to heart disease, a heart attack, or stroke.
The average adult needs seven hours of sleep per night.
Be sure to prioritize your sleep for your health.
Vitamins and supplements
Increasing your vitamin C intake can lower blood pressure.
Take vitamin C supplements regularly, and eat foods high in vitamin C, like fruits and vegetables.
Potassium supplements can also help regulate your blood pressure, especially if your diet is high in sodium.
Sodium stops the kidneys from removing water from the body efficiently, and carrying excess water spikes blood pressure.
Taking potassium can help expel sodium in your urine and relax the walls of your blood vessels.
Take these supplements in conjunction with foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas and cantaloupe.
As with any supplements, only take them after consulting with your doctor and having your labs checked.
Taking potassium supplements if you have other medical issues, such as kidney problems, can be dangerous.
When to See a Doctor
Since hypertension can go undetected, it is important to have regular checkups with your doctor to measure your blood pressure rate.
You should visit your doctor if they have prescribed treatment and it is not improving your blood pressure.
See your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Excessive sweating
- Vision problems
These symptoms could be attributed to hypertension, or could be side effects from your medication.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
High Blood Pressure. (2020).
Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure. (2003).
Thiazide Diuretics. (2021).
Types of Blood Pressure Medications. (2021).
DASH Eating Plan. (2021).
Physical Activity and the Prevention of Hypertension. (2013).
The relationship between body weight and blood pressure. (1988).
Big Doses of Vitamin C May Lower Blood Pressure. (2012).
The effect of potassium supplementation on blood pressure in hypertensive subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis. (2016).