The Lowdown on High Blood Pressure

Feb 27, 2013, 18:32 ET from Kaiser Permanente

OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 68 million people — 1 in 3 U.S. adults — have high blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can lead to a stroke or heart attack. As American Heart Month ends, Kaiser Permanente notes it's good for people to remember all year that high blood pressure is preventable and controllable.

Kaiser Permanente is recognized as a national leader in reducing and preventing heart attacks and strokes. Kaiser Permanente Colorado was recently hailed as a 2012 Million Hearts™ Hypertension Control Champion. In Northern California, 87 percent of Kaiser Permanente members have their hypertension under control, while nationally, only 46 percent of people with hypertension have it under control.

Joseph Young, MD, a Kaiser Permanente internal medicine physician and the clinical hypertension lead with The Permanente Medical Group, answers a few questions and offers advice on how to keep your blood pressure in check.

Can you give us a quick 'Blood Pressure 101'?

Blood pressure is just the pressure of blood flowing inside the body's blood vessels. The top number is the pressure when the heart pumps at its peak. The bottom number is the pressure when the heart is relaxing and filling back up with blood. An ideal blood pressure is 119/79 or lower.  A top number between 120 and 139 or a bottom number between 80 and 89 is called 'prehypertension.'

What is high blood pressure?

If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. As an aside, in a healthy, active person, what might seem like low blood pressure is often normal. In the United States, 29 percent of the adult population, or roughly 70 million people, has high blood pressure. Being overweight, lack of physical activity, too much salt or alcohol, stress, older age, genetics and family history, and various diseases all can contribute to high blood pressure. The good news is that it is easy to treat high blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle and a number of well-tolerated, once-daily medications.

What are the main guidelines for healthy practices that can reduce risk?

Regular physical activity is very important and helps to lower blood pressure. Pick something you enjoy — that will make it easier to stick with it. And it doesn't have to be fancy. You could just walk briskly at least 150 minutes a week, for example. Limit salt intake, too, because salt causes fluid retention, which increases blood pressure. Many people don't realize that most salt doesn't come out of a salt shaker; it's from processed and restaurant food. So, cook with unprocessed fresh fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein at home, and limit how often you eat out to no more than one to two times a week. Don't drink too much alcohol. If you smoke, quitting is the most important thing above anything else that you could do for your overall health. Smoking does not increase blood pressure, but smoking combined with high blood pressure or with any other risk factor is especially dangerous.

What is the role of medication with high blood pressure?

Medications are very important for most people with high blood pressure. The medications we've used to treat high blood pressure have been around for decades. What has changed is how we use them. Over time we've learned that combining medications in low doses works best and causes the fewest side effects. Today, most people with high blood pressure who need medications can control their condition with a once-a-day regimen with minor to no side effects.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

High blood pressure in and of itself is just a number. We care about it because we know if the number is high, there is an increased risk of stroke, heart problems and kidney problems. Even more important is the fact that we know that lowering blood pressure when it is high greatly reduces those risks. If you have high blood pressure, have it checked regularly and have frequent adjustments made in your treatment regimen until it's well controlled. If you don't have a history of high blood pressure, it's still best to have your blood pressure checked every two years.

Joseph Young, MD, was a featured guest this month on Kaiser Permanente's Health Talks Online recorded webinar, "Get the Lowdown on High Blood Pressure."

Kaiser Permanente's commitment to reduce hypertension, strokes and heart attacks

Historically, hypertension has disproportionately affected African Americans. Research shows that African Americans develop high blood pressure more often, and at an earlier age, than whites and Latinos. Kaiser Permanente is committed to eliminating this disparity. Kaiser Permanente Northern California is a leader in reducing heart attacks within its large, ethnically diverse population. Kaiser Permanente's successful approach was featured in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010.


As mentioned earlier, Kaiser Permanente Colorado was recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for sharply increasing its hypertension control rate among members from 61 percent to 82.6 percent over three years. The video below explains what made Kaiser Permanente a 2012 Million Hearts™ Hypertension Control Champion.


*For questions or advice about a specific condition, always consult with your physician.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:

Diana Yee, 510-271-6671,
Marc Brown, 510-987-4672,

SOURCE Kaiser Permanente