Learn About Hypertension

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a disease. You can have hypertension for years without any symptoms; all the while it can be causing damage to your blood vessels and your heart.

What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?    

High blood pressure is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.  Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

Types of Hypertension

Primary (essential) Hypertension This is the most common type of hypertension and usually develops gradually over many years.  Sometimes there is no identifiable, direct cause for this type of high blood pressure. It usually happens due to nonactive lifestyles and having risk factors that increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. 

Secondary Hypertension  This type appears suddenly.  It can happen because you have another health condition or are taking medications that may be causing blood your pressure to be high. Once the cause of secondary hypertension is fixed, blood pressure usually returns to normal.

How is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure is measured using a cuff filled with air that squeezes an artery in your upper arm and a gauge records your ‘pressure’ as the air is released from the cuff.

Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers, for example 120/80 mmHg.  The top number (systolic pressure) represents how much the heart contracts (pumps blood).  The bottom number (diastolic pressure) represents the heart at rest (not contracting).   Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

How high blood pressure is diagnosed

Blood Pressure Levels


systolic: less than 120 mmHg
diastolic: less than 80mmHg

At risk (prehypertension)

systolic: 120–139 mmHg
diastolic: 80–89 mmHg


systolic: 140 mmHg or higher
diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher

Blood Pressure versus Heart Rate (Pulse)

Blood pressure is the force of blood flowing against artery walls as it gets pumped through your body.

Heart Rate (Pulse) is the number of times your heart beats per minute to pump blood through your body.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypertension

High blood pressure has been called the ‘silent killer’ because it may not have any symptoms so you may not realize you have it. You can have hypertension for years without even knowing it and it can cause damage to blood vessels and your heart (primary hypertension).  If blood pressure is dangerously high and life threatening (known as a hypertensive crisis) sometimes people may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds.  The only sure way to know if blood pressure is high is to regularly measure it.  It is important to regularly check your blood pressure even if it does not feel like it is high.

  • Age – hypertension risk increases as you get older
  • Race – hypertension is more common in blacks but occurs with any race
  • Family history of hypertension

Having certain medical conditions can increase your chances of developing high blood pressure or may interfere with keeping it under control (secondary hypertension). These conditions include:

In addition, unhealthy behaviors also increase your risk for high blood pressure and can affect how it is controlled, especially for people who have one of the medical conditions listed above. Unhealthy behaviors include:

What problems can high blood pressure cause?


Making healthier lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing hypertension as well as help you keep it under control if you do have it. 

Choices YOU can make to prevent or manage your hypertension include:

A  listing of questions from the American Heart Association

Chronic Disease Self Management help from the Tennessee Department of Health

The Tennessee Department of Health offers a free Living Well with Chronic Conditions class to help manage these diseases.  Living Well with Chronic Conditions (the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program or CDSMP) is a six-week workshop that provides tools for living a healthy life with chronic health conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, asthma and heart disease. Through weekly sessions, the workshop provides support for continuing normal daily activities and dealing with the emotions that chronic conditions may bring about. 

Living Well with Chronic Conditions

For more information about high blood pressure, visit the following Web sites:


Healthy Eating:  

Physical Activity:

Hypertension Support:




Team Based Care 

Clinical-community linkages help connect health care providers, community organizations, and public health agencies so they can improve patients' health by providing access to preventive and chronic care services.  Teamwork between physicians and other health care providers is vital in coordinating care to ensure patients get the best possible care and best possible outcomes.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Clinical-Community Linkages

National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACCD) Team Based Care- resources

Team Care Approach for Diabetes Management (Centers for Disease Control)

The Hypertension Team (Science-In-Brief)

National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) team based care- Collaborative Practice