High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

What is hypertension?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension or HBP, occurs when the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries is too high. This condition increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

At the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute, our specialists offer a variety of treatments for people with hypertension. We’re experts at helping people with severely elevated blood pressure that is difficult to treat.

Risk factors for hypertension: What causes high blood pressure?

A blood pressure reading above the normal range of 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) is considered to be elevated, or high. Your risk for health problems increases as these numbers go up.

These factors can increase your chances of having high blood pressure:

  • Family history: High blood pressure often runs in families.
  • Age: Your risk goes up as you get older.
  • Race: Black Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Weight: Being overweight or obese strains your heart and increases blood pressure.
  • Alcohol use: Regular, heavy use of alcohol can dramatically raise blood pressure.
  • Diet: A diet high in salt, trans fats, and calories contributes to high blood pressure.
  • Tobacco use: Smoking and other types of tobacco use elevates blood pressure.

Hypertension stages

Two measurements of blood pressure are usually recorded: systolic blood pressure (top number) and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number). Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts, while diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

Hypertension stages are categorized as:


Systolic blood pressure less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic less than 80 mm Hg is considered normal.


Systolic blood pressure between 120-129 mm Hg and diastolic less than 80 mm Hg is considered elevated.

Stage 1 hypertension

Systolic blood pressure between 130-139 mm Hg or diastolic between 80-89 mm Hg is considered stage 1 hypertension.

Stage 2 hypertension

Systolic blood pressure at least 140 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure at least 90 mm Hg is considered stage 2 hypertension.

Hypertension crisis

During a hypertension crisis, blood pressure will increase severely and can cause the blood vessels to become inflamed or leak fluid. As a result, the heart may not be able to pump blood efficiently. This can lead to stroke or damage to the blood vessels. A blood pressure measurement of 180/120 mm Hg and higher with associated symptoms is considered an emergency situation and should be treated immediately.

Types of hypertension

The two main types of hypertension are:

Primary hypertension 

Also known as essential hypertension, primary hypertension is the most common type among adults. A specific cause isn’t known, but it’s thought to be a combination of genetics, lifestyle, age, and diet. 

Secondary hypertension

This type of hypertension is defined as having an identifiable and possibly reversible cause. Only about 18% to 40% of adults have secondary hypertension. Causes can include adrenal gland disease, obstructive sleep apnea, thyroid abnormalities, and narrowing of the kidney arteries.

Other types of hypertension that fit within these two main categories are:

Resistant hypertension

This type of hypertension is difficult to control and requires several medications to achieve optimal blood pressure. 

Malignant hypertension

This describes hypertension that causes damage to your organs. This is considered a very severe type of hypertension and is an emergency medical condition that requires immediate treatment. 

Isolated systolic hypertension 

This is the most frequent type of hypertension in adults 60 years and older. It’s classified as systolic blood pressure of about 140 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure under 90 mm Hg. 

Pulmonary hypertension

This type of hypertension affects the arteries in the lungs and right side of the heart. One form of pulmonary hypertension is called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), where the blood vessels in the lungs are blocked or destroyed. For some people, pulmonary hypertension can worsen over time and be life-threatening if left untreated. 

Portal hypertension

This refers to elevated pressure in the portal venous system. The portal vein is a major vein connected to the liver. Portal hypertension is typically caused by liver dysfunction and cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver.

High blood pressure (hypertension) symptoms

Signs of high blood pressure may include:

  • Severe headaches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Vision problems.
  • Chest pain.
  • Blood in the urine.

Blood pressure care at AHN: Why choose us?

AHN heart experts work with you and your primary care physician to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. At AHN, you benefit from:

Care for complex cases

Doctors across the tri-state area regularly refer people for treatment of severe hypertension that hasn’t responded to traditional therapies.


You receive care from a team of experts that includes nephrologists (kidney experts), endocrinologists (diabetes experts), vascular (artery and vein) specialists, cardiologists, and pharmacists. This team partners with you and your referring physician to manage your blood pressure.

Complete heart services

All AHN hospitals provide treatments for high blood pressure. You may also choose to receive care for resistance hypertension that doesn’t respond to treatment at the AHN Comprehensive Hypertension Center located at Allegheny General Hospital and West Penn Hospital.

Hypertension treatment: Ways to lower high blood pressure

AHN is an accredited comprehensive hypertension care center. We specialize in helping people with high blood pressure that is difficult to control. Our hypertension treatments include:

Medication management

High blood pressure medications are known as antihypertensives and are available by prescription to help lower high blood pressure. Examples of hypertension medications include:

  • Diuretics.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs).
  • Calcium channel blockers.• Beta adrenergic blockers.
  • Aldosterone antagonists.

We review your past medical history and work hard to find a medication regimen that helps you. Our pharmacist is available 24/7 to answer questions.

Support services

We offer a variety of support services, including:

  • Integrative medicine, such as acupuncture and massage.
  • Nutrition services to help you reduce sodium and trans fats in your diet.
  • Wellness programs to help manage stress.
  • Exercise therapy.
  • Smoking cessation programs.

Home blood pressure monitoring 

We give you a home blood pressure device and teach you how to track your numbers at home. When needed, you may use a hospital-issued ambulatory blood pressure machine. This device tracks your blood pressure for 24 hours as you go about your daily life.

Treatments for sleep disorders

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that halts your breathing and raises blood pressure while you sleep. Experts at the AHN Center for Sleep Medicine offer tests and treatments for this sleep problem.

Help for weight loss

Experts at the AHN Bariatric and Metabolic Institute offer personalized weight loss plans as well as weight-loss surgery.

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment  with AHN cardiovascular services.