top of page
Checking Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a common condition that affects our blood vessels. When you have high blood pressure, the force of the blood pushing against the blood vessel walls is consistently too high. Therefore, the heart must work harder to pump blood. Overtime, this puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and other serious health problems.

There are ways to control blood pressure through a healthy diet, not smoking, and regular exercise. In addition, some people may need to take medication to help control their blood pressure.

Health threats diagram.png

The American Heart Association divide blood pressure into four general categories:


Risk Factors

High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:

  • Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases with age.

  • Family History. You are more likely to develop high blood pressure if you have a parent or sibling with the condition.

  • Obesity or being overweight. Excess weight can cause changes in the blood vessels, the kidneys, and other areas of the body. These changes often increase blood pressure. Being overweight or obese also raises the risk of heart disease.

  • Lack of exercise. Not exercising can lead to weight gain. This raises the risk of high blood pressure. People who are inactive also have higher heart rates.

  • Tobacco use or vaping. Smoking, chewing tobacco or vaping immediately raises blood pressure for a short amount of time. Tobacco smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. Which increases your chances of high blood pressure.

  • Too much salt. A lot of salt in your diet- also called sodium- can cause the body to retain fluid. This increases blood pressure.

  • Drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked to an increase in blood pressure.

  • Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. Chronic stress can continue this increased blood pressure.

When should you see a doctor?

Blood pressure screenings are an important part of our health care. At minimum, starting at the age of 18, your provider should check your blood pressure every two years. If you’re 40 or older, or you’re 18-39 years old with an increased risk of high blood pressure, your provider should check your blood pressure every year.

If you have high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease, your provider will likely recommend more frequent readings. This may entail taking readings at home. In addition, children age 3 or older may have blood pressure readings as a part of their yearly checkups.

There are also free blood pressure screenings available at most health fairs or even locations in your community. Free blood pressure machines are sometimes available at grocery stores or pharmacies. The accuracy of these machines depends on the correct use of them.

General Guidelines to Checking your Blood Pressure

  1. Don’t eat or drink anything 30 minutes before you take your blood pressure.

  2. Empty your bladder before your reading.

  3. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back supported for at least 5 minutes before your reading.

  4. Put both feet flat on the ground and keep your legs uncrossed.

  5. Rest your arm with the cuff on a table at chest height.

  6. Make sure the blood pressure cuff is snug but not too tight. The cuff should be against your bare skin, not over clothing.

  7. Do not talk while your blood pressure is being measured.

Nutritional Guidelines for Managing High Blood Pressure:

DASH Diet: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet is designed to help prevent or treat high blood pressure. Starting this healthy eating plan can lower your blood pressure as early as two weeks.

How does it work?

The DASH diet includes foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help control blood pressure. The diet limits foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. Limiting these foods also helps to lower blood pressure.

The typical American Diet can include roughly 3,400 mg of sodium or more per day. The DASH diet aims to limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg of sodium per day, this is roughly equivalent to the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of table salt.

DASH diet: What to eat

The DASH diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It includes fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It limits foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy products.

When following DASH, it is important to choose foods that are:

  • Rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein

  • Low in saturated fat

  • Low in sodium

DASH diet: Recommended servings

The DASH diet provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. The number of servings you should have depends on your daily calorie needs.


Here's a look at the recommended servings from each food group for a 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet:

  • Grains: 6 to 8 servings a day. One serving is one slice bread, 1 ounce dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta.

  • Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings a day. One serving is 1 cup raw leafy green vegetable, 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables, or 1/2 cup vegetable juice.

  • Fruits: 4 to 5 servings a day. One serving is one medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or 1/2 cup fruit juice.

  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products: 2 to 3 servings a day. One serving is 1 cup milk or yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces cheese.

  • Lean meats, poultry and fish: six 1-ounce servings or fewer a day. One serving is 1 ounce cooked meat, poultry or fish, or 1 egg.

  • Nuts, seeds and legumes: 4 to 5 servings a week. One serving is 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked legumes (dried beans or peas).

  • Fats and oils: 2 to 3 servings a day. One serving is 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons salad dressing.

  • Sweets and added sugars: 5 servings or fewer a week. One serving is 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet, or 1 cup lemonade.


You can further reduce sodium by:

  • Using sodium-free spices or flavorings instead of salt

  • Not adding salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal

  • Choosing plain fresh, frozen or canned vegetables

  • Choosing fresh or frozen skinless poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat

  • Reading food labels and choosing low-sodium or no-salt-added options

As you cut back on processed, high-sodium foods, you may notice that food tastes different. It may take time for your palate to adjust. But once it does, you may find you prefer the DASH way of eating. There are many ways of making food taste delicious and flavorful, without needing to add salt!

Helpful Resources

10 Ways to Improve your Heart Health

High Blood Pressure Color Chart

bottom of page