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Blood pressure screening

High blood pressure is a prevalent condition, affecting approximately 30% of the adult population. It is the most commonly diagnosed condition at outpatient office visits. High blood pressure is a major contributing risk factor to heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and chronic kidney disease. In 2010, it was the primary or contributing cause of death for more than 362,000 Americans.

Who is at risk

Persons at increased risk include those who have high-normal blood pressure (130 to 139/85 to 89 mm Hg), those who are overweight or obese, African American, or have a family history of high blood pressure or a heart condition.

Symptoms

If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:

  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in your chest, neck, or ears

What you can do

It can be helpful in diagnosing or monitoring high blood pressure if you record your readings in a blood pressure log.

Preventive service at no cost

Adults aged 18 years or older

The USPSTF recommends screening for high blood pressure in adults aged 18 years or older. The USPSTF recommends obtaining measurements outside of the clinical setting for diagnostic confirmation before starting treatment.

Children and adolescents

Screening should be performed on children during well child visits at high risk until age 3. Screening should be performed on all children and adolescents at each well child visit.


Why screening is important

Reducing blood pressure may reduce the incidence of stroke, heart failure, and coronary heart disease events.

What the screening is

A blood pressure test measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps.

Screening for high blood pressure may be done in the office setting or outside of the clinical setting. Because blood pressure has natural variations throughout the day, repeated measurements over time are generally more accurate in establishing a diagnosis of hypertension.

A blood pressure reading, given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), has two numbers. The first, or top, number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats (systolic pressure). The second, or bottom, number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure).

Top number (systolic) in mm Hg

And/or

Bottom number (diastolic) in mm Hg

Your category*

Below 90

or

Below 60

Low blood pressure† (hypotension)

Below 120

and

Below 80

Normal blood pressure

120-129

and

Below 80

Elevated blood pressure

130-139

or

80-89

Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension)

140 or more

or

90 or more

Stage 2 high blood pressure (hypertension)

*Ranges may be lower for children and teenagers. Talk to your child's doctor if you think your child might have high blood pressure.

†What's considered low blood pressure can vary from person to person. The numbers given are a general guideline.

Treatment

You will probably require additional and more frequent testing if you’ve been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as heart failure or atrial fibrillation, or if you have a history of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition, your healthcare provider may want more stringent screening if you already have risk factors or a family history of cardiovascular disease.

If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough, your doctor may recommend medications to help control your condition or the symptoms. Your doctor will discuss which medication options might work best for you.

Additional tips

Your doctor may recommend that you make lifestyle changes.

  • Reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
  • Eat healthy foods. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. Eat less saturated fat and total fat.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Lose weight.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure and keep your weight under control. Strive for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week.
  • Limit alcohol. Even if you're healthy, alcohol can raise your blood pressure. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation.

DASH Eating Plan

Additional Resources