Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels, and the magnitude of this force depends on the cardiac output and the resistance of the blood vessels.
Hypertension is defined as having a blood pressure higher than 140 over 90 mmHg, with a consensus across medical guidelines.
As acute stress, intense exercise and other factors can briefly elevate blood pressure even in people whose blood pressure is normal, a diagnosis of hypertension requires several readings showing high blood pressure over time.
The disease burden of high blood pressure is a growing problem worldwide, in part because of a rapidly aging population. Other key contributors include lifestyle factors, such as:
Diagnosis of hypertension is made by measuring blood pressure over a number of clinic visits, using a sphygmomamometer – the familiar upper-arm cuff device. An isolated high reading is not taken as proof of hypertension. Rather, diagnosis can be made after elevated readings are taken on at least three separate days.
In addition to measuring blood pressure using sphygmomanometry, a doctor will take a history (ask questions, such as about cardiovascular problems) and do a physical examination before diagnosing hypertension.
These questions and additional tests can help to identify the cause of high blood pressure and determine whether there have been any complications. Such tests may include urine tests, kidney ultrasound imaging, blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and/or an echocardiograph.
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