American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Blood Pressure Myths and Misconceptions

Physician taking patient's blood pressureMyth: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is normal. 

Fact: Though more than 67 million Americans have high blood pressure, hypertension is not a "normal" condition. Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg systolic pressure (top number) or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure (bottom number). This is usually read as ³ 140/90 mm Hg, including both the top and bottom numbers in the measurement. 

Myth: High blood pressure isn't really dangerous.

Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), high blood pressure and high cholesterol are two of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure also can lead to other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney damage, dementia, and blindness.

Myth: In a blood pressure reading, the bottom number is more important than the top. 

Fact: Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers–the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). For many years, the focus of high blood pressure screening and treatment has been on diastolic blood pressure. However, clinical evidence suggests that controlling both the systolic and diastolic pressure is important to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Both the top and bottom numbers are important, and both should be within the recommended JNC VI goals.

Myth: Systolic pressure of 100 + your age is normal.

Fact: At any age, having a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is associated with a significantly elevated risk of developing hypertension-related cardiovascular disease, and medical attention is warranted. Optimal blood pressure for an adult is defined as below 120 mm Hg systolic and below 80 mm Hg diastolic; Normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as below 130 mm Hg systolic and below 85 mm Hg diastolic. Normal target blood pressure goals may be even lower for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.

Myth: Hypertension cannot be controlled.

Fact: Hypertension is easily detected and usually controllable. Making certain lifestyle modifications and taking medication as prescribed are the keys to controlling hypertension. Behavioral changes include losing excess weight, quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating a low-fat and low-salt diet. However, even with such behavioral changes, high blood pressure can still persist. Medication in conjunction with moderate lifestyle alterations is usually necessary to achieve the desired goal of below 140/90 mm Hg.

Myth: I don’t need to take my blood pressure medication, I feel just fine.

Fact: Hypertension can have non-specific symptoms that may go unnoticed for years. However, organ damage and other serious conditions develop over time. It is important to meet the target goal of below 140/90 mm Hg to help avoid long-term complications of hypertension and reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke. For people with certain conditions, like diabetes, target blood pressure goals are even lower (below 130/85 mm Hg.)


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