Health / Health conditions

High Blood Pressure: What You Need to Know

Couple making heart with their hands

According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure.1 It is often called the “silent killer” because many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. There are often no symptoms until the damage has already been done.

Despite how common high blood pressure is, you might not know exactly what high blood pressure is or how it can harm the heart and other parts of your body. These questions and answers explain why your blood pressure matters and what you can do to protect your health.

What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Your blood pressure changes throughout the day based on your activities. Having blood pressure measures consistently above normal may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure.

What problems are caused by high blood pressure?
High blood pressure can damage your health in many ways. It can seriously hurt important organs like your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. The good news is that, in most cases, you can manage your blood pressure to lower your risk for serious health problems.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
There’s only one way to know if you have high blood pressure: Have your primary care provider (PCP) or other health professional measure it. Measuring your blood pressure is quick and painless. A single high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure, but it is a sign that it should be watched more closely. Be sure to talk to your PCP about your blood pressure and what it means for you. Your PCP may also recommend that you measure your blood pressure at home.

What do the numbers mean?
The top number, called the systolic number, is the pressure measured when the heart beats. The bottom number, or diastolic number, is the pressure measured when the heart rests between beats. According to the American Heart Association, a normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80.2

  • Normal
    Less than 120 and less than 80
  • Elevated
    120-129 and less than 80  
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Stage 1     
    130-139 or 80-89
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Stage 2  
    140 or higher or 90 or higher 
  • Hypertensive Crisis (consult your doctor immediately) 
    Higher than 180 and/or higher than 120

What causes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure usually develops over time. Some risk factors can’t be changed, such as family history and age. However, other risk factors—such as smoking or not getting enough regular physical activity—can be changed with a healthy lifestyle. Certain health conditions, including diabetes and chronic kidney disease, can also increase the risk for developing high blood pressure. 

What can I do to prevent or manage high blood pressure?
Many people can lower their blood pressure into a healthy range or keep their numbers in a healthy range by making lifestyle changes. Talk with your PCP about:

  • Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week)
  • Not smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet, including limiting sodium (salt) and alcohol
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Managing stress

In addition to making healthy lifestyle changes, some people with high blood pressure need to take medicine to manage their blood pressure.

If you need help managing your high blood pressure or another health issue, our BCBSRI Care Management Program can help—at no additional cost. A dedicated care manager will work with you and your providers to create a care plan and help you on the path to a healthier life.* To get started, please call 1-844-563-0892 or email

*Care Management is not available for Plan 65 members.