PATIENTS & FAMILIES
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels as your heart pumps blood around your body. When you have high blood pressure, it means the pressure is too high. High blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
Most people with high blood pressure do not have any symptoms. You can have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. For this reason, it is often called a “silent killer.” The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured.
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure is measured by using a blood pressure cuff around your arm. The cuff is pumped up and then let down while listening for the pulse sound. Blood pressure is measured as two numbers. The top number (called “systolic pressure”) is the pressure when your heart is beating. The bottom number (called “diastolic pressure”) is the pressure when your heart is resting between beats. A blood pressure of 120/80 is read as “120 over 80.” Normal blood pressure in adults 18 and older is less than 120/80. In general, for adults 18 and older, blood pressure that stays at 140/90 or more is considered high. A single high reading may not mean you have high blood pressure. It should be confirmed on follow-up visits to your healthcare provider.
Is high blood pressure serious?
Yes. High blood pressure can cause problems in many organs in your body, including your kidneys and your heart. It makes your heart work harder. Over time, this can cause your heart to become larger and weaker, which increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes. It can also cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys. Over time, this can lead to kidney disease or kidney failure. It can also lead to early death. In fact, according to a recent report from the American Heart Association, high blood pressure contributes to nearly 1,000 deaths per day! Keeping your blood pressure in control lowers your risk for these problems. That is why it is important to find out if you have high blood pressure and get treatment for it.
What should I do if I have high blood pressure?
Eat healthy meals, get regular exercise, and limit how much salt you eat. You may also need to take special pills to help control blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure under control is the best way to reduce your chance that it will lead to kidney disease or other health problems, including heart attacks or strokes.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known. However, some things may play a role in its development, including:
• Being overweight
• Lack of physical activity
• Too much salt in the diet
• Drinking too much alcohol (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
• Older age
• Family history of high blood pressure (heredity)
• Race (African Americans have high blood pressure more often and more severely than White Americans)
• Having chronic kidney disease
How is High Blood Pressure Treated?
There is no cure for high blood pressure. But treatment can lower blood pressure that is too high. If it is mild, high blood pressure may sometimes be brought under control by making changes to a healthier lifestyle.
How is high blood pressure treated?
Your healthcare provider will create a treatment plan for you. Your treatment plan will be based on the results of your tests, your physical examination, and on your individual needs. Making healthy lifestyle choices is an important part of treatment. It can help bring high blood pressure under control. This may include losing extra weight, eating meals with less fat and salt, limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for a woman, and starting a regular exercise program approved by your healthcare provider. If you are a smoker, your healthcare provider will advise you to stop. Smoking increases your risk of complications such as heart attacks or strokes. Medicines may also be needed to get your blood pressure under control. There are many effective medicines for high blood pressure. Sometimes a combination of different medicines may be needed. These medicines should be taken as instructed, even if you are feeling fine. This is because high blood pressure is damaging even when it causes no symptoms.
Will I need to follow a special diet?
If you are overweight, your healthcare provider may want you to lose weight. Also, most healthcare providers recommend a diet that is low in fat and salt as part of the treatment for patients with high blood pressure. Spices and herbs can be used instead of salt to add flavor to food. Your healthcare provider can refer you to a registered dietitian who will help you learn more about eating the right foods in the right amounts to help control your blood pressure. If you have kidney disease or diabetes, you should not make changes in your diet without speaking to your healthcare provider.
What else should I do to help control my blood pressure?
You can help yourself by doing the following:
• Have regular medical checkups
• Take all your medicines as instructed, even if you are feeling fine
• Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations about diet and exercise
• Stop smoking, if you are a smoker
• Avoid drinking more than one ounce of alcohol a day
• Get your whole family involved in your care plan
Don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions or problems. If you cooperate with your treatment plan, you can keep your blood pressure controlled and help to prevent serious complications.
What causes CKD in adults and children?
In adults, the major causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure. At present, these are not major causes of CKD in children. However, diabetes and high blood pressure are increasing among children, mostly because growing numbers of children are overweight. Being overweight greatly increases the risk of developing serious health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and CKD. Currently, the major causes of CKD in children include:
• Problems in the urinary tract that block the normal flow of urine
• Inherited diseases such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which causes fluid-filled pouches to form in the kidneys and enlarge over time
• Conditions that damage the filtering units of the kidneys (the glomeruli) such as focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS)
• Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a disease that affects both the blood and blood vessels. Kidney failure may occur as a result of damage to small blood vessels in the kidneys. HUS may also affect other organs such as the heart and brain.
How are high blood pressure and CKD related?
High blood pressure is a leading cause of CKD in adults and contributes to the worsening of CKD in children. High blood pressure can also be a complication of kidney disease. The kidneys play a key role in keeping blood pressure in a healthy range. If your child’s kidneys are damaged, they are less able to help regulate blood pressure. As a result, the child’s blood pressure increases and CKD get worse. Making sure your child’s treatment plan is followed carefully and his/her blood pressure is controlled can help keep kidney disease from getting worse and prevent heart disease.
© 2015 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved.
The information shared is developed solely by internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.