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The #1 Sign You Have High Blood Pressure

It's called a "silent killer" for a reason.

This week, doctors reported in the journal Circulation that Americans' blood pressure has risen alarmingly during the pandemic. Today, about half of Americans have high blood pressure, (hypertension), a less-discussed health condition that can have major effects on the body. "Even small changes in average blood pressure in the population can have a huge impact on the number of strokes, heart failure events and heart attacks that we're likely to be seeing in the coming months," wrote the study's lead author. In 2019, high blood pressure was the primary or contributing cause to more than 500,000 deaths nationwide. This is the #1 sign you have high blood pressure, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The Sure Sign You Have High Blood Pressure

Normal blood pressure 120/80 on an LCD screen

The only sure way to know if your blood pressure is high is to have it checked. According to the American Heart Association, blood pressure is normal if it measures 120 or lower systolic (the top number) and 80 or lower diastolic (the bottom number).

  • If your blood pressure is between 120 and 129 systolic, and still lower than 80 diastolic, it is considered elevated.
  • If your blood pressure is between 130 and 139 systolic, or 80 to 89 diastolic, that signifies stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • If your blood pressure is above 140 systolic, or above 90 diastolic, that signifies stage 2 high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • If your blood pressure is above 180 systolic and/or 120 diastolic, that is a hypertensive crisis, a medical emergency. You should seek medical assistance ASAP.


Risks of High Blood Pressure

man is putting his hand to the chest

High blood pressure is a serious health condition. It is just like it sounds—it means that blood is moving through blood vessels at too great a force. Over time, that can stress and damage the blood vessels, leading to serious health problems such as:

  • Heart attack or failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Liver problems
  • Blindness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Poor outcome from COVID-19

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What the Study Found

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The researchers behind the Circulation study looked at health data of more than 500,000 Americans and found that each month during the pandemic, blood pressure increased by an average of 1.1 to 2.5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) systolic and 0.14 to 0.53 diastolic. This was the case for both women and men, regardless of age.

"The causes of an overall increase in blood pressure are not clear," the New York Times reported. "The reasons may include an increase in alcohol consumption, a decline in exercise, rising stress, a drop in doctors' visits and less adherence to a medication regimen."

"It is probably multifactorial," said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association. "But I think a critical piece is that we know so many people lost contact with the health care system, and lost control of blood pressure and diabetes."

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Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Health visitor and a senior man during home visit.

Again, the only sure way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked. Most of the time, high blood pressure has no symptoms. It's considered a "silent killer." Relying on symptoms to alert you to blood pressure problems is ineffective and dangerous. Being tested for high blood pressure is easy and painless, and if your blood pressure is high, there are many things you can do, in cooperation with a healthcare provider, to reduce it to a healthy level.

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To Treat High Blood Pressure

Chef refusing salt in cooking, healthy nutrition to prevent heart disease

According to the American Heart Association, there are some of the most effective steps you can take to reduce high blood pressure:

  • Eat a healthy diet with limited sodium (salt)
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation (or abstain)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit using tobacco, and don't start
  • Take any medications as recommended by your doctor

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael