Ever wonder what those blood pressure readings at the doctor’s office mean? You’re not alone. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is as common as forgetting your grocery list – it affects nearly half of all adults in the United States! That’s a lot of people, and it’s a significant reason for doctor visits. You might even have a family member being treated for hypertension.

This post dives into what blood pressure is and why it matters. We’ll explain what hypertension means and, most importantly, what you can do to prevent or manage it. The good news? Many tools for controlling hypertension are within your reach!


What is blood pressure?

Imagine your blood pressure as the force of water rushing through a garden hose. Blood pressure is the pressure applied to the walls of your arteries as blood pumps from your heart. It’s like the water pressure that makes a sprinkler shoot up in the air. Arteries carry blood throughout your body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to keep everything running smoothly.

Blood pressure is measured in two numbers: systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). Systolic pressure is the pressure when your heart beats and pushes blood out. Diastolic pressure is the pressure between beats when your heart rests – like the hose when you’re not squeezing the handle.

A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).


What is considered high blood pressure (hypertension)?

The Centers for Disease Control defines hypertension as blood pressure at or above 130/80. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because, so often, there are no warning signs. That’s why regular checkups are essential to catch it early. Remember that about half of the US population has hypertension. 

The diagnosis is often made by considering readings from the medical office and at home. The home readings can be particularly important as some people tend to have a bit of anxiety or nervousness when in an office setting. This elevation in blood pressure is called “white coat syndrome” and can give us a false idea of how your blood pressure runs most of the time. Here are some of the guidelines to use to obtain an accurate blood pressure reading: 

      1. Relax and sit in a chair with both feet on the floor for 5 minutes or more. 
      2. Avoid caffeine, exercise, and smoking for 30 minutes prior. 
      3. No talking during the measurement. 

Risk factors for high blood pressure:

Many factors can increase your risk of hypertension, including:

      • Age (as we get older, our arteries become less flexible)
      • Family history (genetics play a role)
      • Diet (too much salt and not enough fruits and vegetables)
      • Lack of exercise
      • Stress
      • Excess weight
      • Alcohol
      • Smoking
      • Poor sleep habits

Why do we care about hypertension, and what can we do about it? 

Hypertension is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems. These are leading causes of death in the United States. The good news is that hypertension is most often preventable or modifiable. 


How can we manage hypertension?

Lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on blood pressure, and there are many different areas to choose from, including:

    • Eating a healthy diet low in salt and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
    • Getting regular exercise (aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week)
    • Managing stress
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Limiting alcohol intake
    • Quitting smoking
    • Getting enough sleep (7-8 hours per night for most adults)

Check out our other posts related to these lifestyle changes:

If these lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your medical provider may prescribe medication to help lower your blood pressure.

Your provider at Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville will be monitoring your blood pressure whenever you come into the office. We can work with you on an individualized plan to prevent and (if necessary) treat hypertension. Ask us at your next appointment if you have any questions! 

This blog post was written by Jennifer Schirner, PA-C for Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville.



  1. UpToDate
  2. CDC