What is high blood pressure? — High blood pressure is a condition that puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. It does not usually cause symptoms. But it can be serious.

When your doctor or nurse tells you your blood pressure, he or she will say 2 numbers. For instance, your doctor or nurse might say that your blood pressure is "140 over 90." The top number is the pressure inside your arteries when your heart is contracting. The bottom number is the pressure inside your arteries when your heart is relaxed.

"Elevated blood pressure" is a term doctors or nurses use as a warning. People with elevated blood pressure do not yet have high blood pressure. But their blood pressure is not as low as it should be for good health.

Screening — For patients without a previous history of hypertension, US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines recommend that all individuals 18 years or older should be screened for elevated blood pressure. In practice, blood pressure measurement is simple and quick and is performed at most office visits.

At a minimum, the frequency of screening should be as follows:

  • Adults with normal blood pressure should have reassessment of their blood pressure every year.

  • Adults should be screened at least semiannually if they have risk factors for hypertension (eg, obesity) or if their previously measured systolic blood pressure was 120 to 129.