What is high blood pressure?

Blood Pressure Check at Home

Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into your arteries. Your blood pressure is a measure of the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. The pressure changes according to whether you are resting or active.

Blood pressure is measured in 2 numbers. For example, 120/80 mmHg. The first number (systolic pressure) indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps blood out with each beat. The second number (diastolic pressure) indicates the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat. These numbers are measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

According to guidelines from The Heart Foundation, here’s what the different measurements mean.

Normal range:

• Optimal: lower than 120/80 mmHg
• Normal: from 120/80 to 129/84 mmHg
• High normal: 130/85 and 139/89 mmHg

High blood pressure (also referred to as hypertension) is described as:

• Systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or higher; and/or
• Diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg or higher.

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will provide you with a management plan to help return it to the normal range.

What causes high blood pressure?

What causes high blood pressure?

There are two types of high blood pressure (hypertension):

Primary (essential) hypertension. This is the most common type of high blood pressure. It’s believed to be linked to genetics, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. It can develop over several years and may be improved by a healthier lifestyle and medication.

Secondary hypertension. This often appears suddenly. It can be caused by underlying disorders, including kidney disease, thyroid problems, adrenal gland disorders, medications, and illegal drugs, including cocaine and amphetamines

Risk factors you can manage:


People who smoke have a significantly increased risk of high blood pressure.

Being overweight

Your GP can help you reach a healthy weight.

Excessive dietary salt

Eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Your GP can guide you on healthy alcohol habits.

Chronic Stress

Although it’s not proven that stress alone can cause high blood pressure, it’s believed people who are chronically stressed exercise less and make poorer food choices, may be more at risk.

Sedentary lifestyle

People who exercise regularly show a reduction in blood pressure after being physically active.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Many people may not experience symptoms of high blood pressure until they have severe health problems. Some people may experience:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • nosebleeds
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • vision problems
  • shortness of breath

Ask your doctor how often you should have your blood pressure checked.

Shot of a senior woman looking unhappy at home

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can high blood pressure be dangerous?

High blood pressure makes your heart and blood vessels work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body.

The force of high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and your organs. The higher your blood pressure and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the damage.

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It can also lead to conditions including kidney disease, loss of vision and erectile dysfunction.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

Most people are familiar with the simple blood pressure check that GPs routinely perform.

A single high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure as your pressure may vary over time. You will generally be diagnosed with high blood pressure if you have a high reading on three separate occasions. Your doctor may ask you to monitor your blood pressure at home or wear a monitor for 24 hours to get an accurate reading.

How is high blood pressure treated?

There are several treatment options for people with high blood pressure. Your doctor will design a management plan based on your risk factors and symptoms. Lifestyle modifications such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet may be recommended. In addition, medication may be prescribed.

Doctor or psychiatrist consulting and diagnostic examining stressful woman patient on obstetric – gynecological female illness, or mental health in medical clinic or hospital healthcare service center

What’s next?

See your GP promptly if you’re worried about high blood pressure.

Our Doctors

This information is of a general nature. If you are concerned about your heart health, discuss this with your local doctor.