Blood pressure is the force in the arteries when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure). It’s measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). High blood pressure (or hypertension) is defined in an adult as a blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mmHg systolic pressure or greater than or equal to 90 mmHg diastolic pressure.
High blood pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease (which leads to heart attack) and stroke, especially when it’s present with other risk factors.
High blood pressure can occur in children or adults, but it’s more common among people over age 35. It’s particularly prevalent in African Americans, middle-aged and elderly people, obese people, heavy drinkers and women taking birth control pills. It may run in families, but many people with a strong family history of high blood pressure never have it. People with diabetes mellitus, gout or kidney disease are more likely to have high blood pressure, too.