Updated 08 February 2018

What’s the difference between high blood pressure and hypertension?

High blood pressure is an oft-misapplied term. So is hypertension. So what’s the difference, and does it really matter?

If you’re in good health, your blood pressure will fluctuate during the day, depending on your stress level, how much caffeine you’ve had, whether you’re exerting yourself and so on.

Taking your blood pressure when you’ve just heard that your house has been burgled, or after you’ve had three double espressos will show that you have high blood pressure. That’s not necessarily dangerous.

It’s when your blood pressure stays elevated for prolonged periods that the danger creeps in.

When your blood pressure stays high for a long time, you have hypertension. A number of factors can contribute to this: smoking, drinking too much, obesity and high salt intake can cause trouble.

Another factor is heredity: you may simply have inherited hypertension. It seems unfair, but it’s true.

So while you’re likely to have high blood pressure at some stage of your life, you don’t necessarily have hypertension. Seeing your doctor regularly and knowing your family history will help establish which category you fall into.

Read more:
Hypertension and fasting
Risk factors you can control


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Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

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