Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure readings include two numbers, such as 120/80 (say “120 over 80”). The first number is the systolic pressure. This is the force of blood on the artery walls as the heart pumps. The second number is the diastolic pressure. This is the force of blood on the artery walls between heartbeats, when the heart is at rest.

If your blood pressure is usually above 140/90, you have high blood pressure or hypertension. Despite what a lot of people think, high blood pressure usually does not cause headaches or make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. It usually has no symptoms, but it does increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney or eye damage. The higher your blood pressure, the more your risk increases.

Treating high blood pressure may include changing your lifestyle, such as not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, exercising, and making healthier food choices. Your treatment may include medicines.

From Kaiser Permanente’s High Blood Pressure Care Instructions booklet. For more information, visit