High Blood Pressure Overview: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Tamera Jackson by Tamera Jackson | Licensed since 2007
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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What is high blood pressure?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common disease in which the blood flows through the arteries at a higher pressure (the force of blood pressing against blood-vessel walls) than normal.

The NIH explains that health-care providers use two measurement numbers when reporting your blood pressure: a systolic number (when the heart is beating) and a diastolic number (when the heart is resting). Providers refer to the number as the systolic number “over” the diastolic number – for example, 118/70 would be “118 over 70.” Normal blood pressure is below 120/80, states the NIH.

What level is considered to be high blood pressure?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains that either number (systolic or diastolic) can lead to a diagnosis of high blood pressure; both numbers don’t have to be high. According to the NIH, for people that don’t have serious health conditions, a blood pressure reading of:

  • 120-139 over 80-89 is the prehypertension range.
  • 140-159 over 90-99 is the Stage I high blood pressure range.
  • 160 and up over 100 and up is the Stage II high blood pressure range.

What causes high blood pressure?

The NIH and the Mayo Clinic list the following possible causes of high blood pressure:

  • Sympathetic nervous system disorders
  • Abnormalities in blood vessel structure or function
  • Genetic factors
  • Medical conditions including thyroid disorders, certain tumors, kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea
  • Certain medications, including birth control pills and cold and flu remedies
  • Lifestyle factors including obesity, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, poor diet, and lack of physical activity
  • Stress

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Quite often, people have no high blood pressure symptoms until the disease has progressed and caused damage to other organs and body systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The Mayo Clinic website says that some people might have signs of high blood pressure including headaches, nosebleeds, and shortness of breath, but most people have no high blood pressure signs until the condition reaches life-threatening levels.

Left untreated, high blood pressure can cause serious complications, including, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • Heart failure and/or heart attack
  • Stroke, aneurysm
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Eye damage, blindness
  • Peripheral artery disease

How do doctors treat high blood pressure?

When you see your health-care provider, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website says, he or she may do an easy and painless blood pressure cuff test.

Depending on the results and your blood pressure readings, your doctor may prescribe counseling and education to help you learn how to prevent high blood pressure and how to lower high blood pressure levels. You may also be given prescription medications to lower your blood pressure and manage conditions such as high cholesterol that are causes of high blood pressure. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says other high blood pressure treatment may include:

  • Diet and nutrition therapy to teach you how to reduce high blood pressurethrough healthier eating habits
  • Obesity screening and counseling sessions
  • Education for stress management
  • Participation in a fitness program
  • Smoking cessation
  • Medication management with one or more prescription drugs

According to the NIH, some people develop resistant hypertension. This means your high blood pressure is difficult to control with common high blood pressure treatment such as diet and medication. Sometimes another medical condition may be leading to the blood pressure problem. If you have resistant hypertension, your doctor may recommend more intensive treatments and procedures to control it.

Does Medicare cover high blood pressure treatment?

Under Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you may be covered for any medically necessary high blood pressure treatment you receive in the hospital as an inpatient, or as an outpatient at your doctor’s office. Medicare Part B might also cover certain tests to diagnose the condition, as well as health screenings (copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles may apply).

Part B also may cover eligible smoking cessation treatment sessions and obesity and nutrition counseling at no cost to you if your provider accepts Medicare assignment, subject to annual maximum limits. If you have a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan or Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan, your medications may also be covered, if they are included in your plan formulary (list of covered drugs). Keep in mind that plans may change their formularies at any time; you will be notified in writing if they do. In addition, some Medicare Advantage plans offer benefits for fitness and wellness programs to help you lower your high blood pressure. If you choose to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you must continue to pay your Part B premium, plus any addition premium your plan may require.

Need more information about Medicare coverage related to high blood pressure? I’m available to answer your questions. You can get information via email or schedule a phone call by clicking the appropriate link below. To see plans in your area you may qualify for, click the “Compare Plans” button on this page.

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