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Based on data from the 2011–2012 NHANES survey, about one-third of adults in the United States are hypertensive. Hypertension is uncontrolled in almost half of these 71 million people, and of those with uncontrolled hypertension, about 36% or 13 million are unaware of the diagnosis. Even in patients in whom hypertension is diagnosed and treated, control is attained in only 60%. Cardiovascular morbidity and mortality increase as both systolic and diastolic blood pressures rise, but in individuals over age 50 years, the systolic pressure and pulse pressure are better predictors of complications than diastolic pressure. The prevalence of hypertension increases with age, and it is more common in blacks than in whites. Adequate blood pressure control reduces the incidence of acute coronary syndrome by 20–25%, stroke by 30–35%, and heart failure by 50%.


Blood pressure should be measured with a well-calibrated sphygmomanometer. The bladder width within the cuff should encircle at least 80% of the arm circumference. Readings should be taken after the patient has been resting comfortably, back supported in the sitting or supine position, for at least 5 minutes and at least 30 minutes after smoking or coffee ingestion. A video demonstrating the correct technique can be found at Office-based devices that permit multiple automated measurements after a pre-programmed rest period produce blood pressure readings that are independent of digit preference bias and the “white coat” phenomenon (where blood pressure is elevated in the clinic but normal at home). Blood pressure measurements taken outside the office environment, either by intermittent self-monitoring (home blood pressure) or with an automated device programmed to take measurements at regular intervals (ambulatory blood pressure) are more powerful predictors of outcomes and are advocated in clinical guidelines. Home measurements are also helpful in differentiating white coat hypertension from hypertension that is resistant to treatment, and in diagnosis of “masked hypertension” (where blood pressure is normal in the clinic but elevated at home). The cardiovascular risk associated with masked hypertension is similar to that observed in sustained hypertension.

A single elevated blood pressure reading is not sufficient to establish the diagnosis of hypertension. The major exceptions to this rule are hypertensive presentations with unequivocal evidence of life-threatening end-organ damage, as seen in hypertensive emergency, or in hypertensive urgency where blood pressure is greater than 220/125 mm Hg but life-threatening end-organ damage is absent. In less severe cases, the diagnosis of hypertension depends on a series of measurements of blood pressure, since readings can vary and tend to regress toward the mean with time. Patients whose initial blood pressure is in the hypertensive range exhibit the greatest fall toward the normal range between the first and second encounters. However, the concern for diagnostic precision needs to be balanced by an appreciation of the importance of establishing the diagnosis of hypertension as quickly as possible, since a 3-month delay ...

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