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Updated 3 June 2022 | Approved By

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High Blood Pressure – Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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What is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?

Hypertension is the scientific term for high blood pressure. Someone with hypertension has blood pressure levels consistently higher than expected for their given age and gender. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, about 34% of Australian adults have high blood pressure [1]. High blood pressure can lead to chronic diseases, such as stroke and heart disease.

What is Normal Blood Pressure?

According to the National Heart Foundation of Australia, normal blood pressure levels are typically under 120 systolic and 80 diastolic blood pressure (please refer to this article to explain the difference between these two terms). Blood pressure is typically read with the systolic blood pressure reading at the top and diastolic blood pressure at the bottom. Someone with 120 systolic and 80 diastolic blood pressure will read 120/80. However, this may vary depending on your characteristics, such as age, gender, body shape and ethnicity. Blood pressure may also fluctuate throughout the day, leading to higher blood pressure moments. This article will only discuss constantly high blood pressure readings. Please talk to your 24-7 MedCare GP if you have any concerns about your blood pressure.

What is High Blood Pressure?

According to the World Health Organisation, a high blood pressure reading is ≥ 140mmHg systolic blood pressure (the higher number) and/or ≥ 90mmHg diastolic blood pressure (the lower number). High blood pressure can also be categorised into stage 1 and stage 2 hypertension. Stage 1 hypertension describes a 130-139mmHg systolic and/or 80-89 diastolic blood pressure. This is also described as prehypertension, where you may require regular monitoring, advice about lifestyle changes and perhaps treatment from your GP. Stage 2 hypertension describes those who regularly have a ≥ 140mmHg systolic and/or ≥ 90mmHg diastolic blood pressure. Regular GP monitoring, advice about lifestyle changes and treatment may be required.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

There are no obvious signs of high blood pressure (or hypertension) symptoms for many people. This is why regular follow-ups with your GP are so important. However, those with high blood pressure may experience:
  • Headaches (click here for more information)
  • Mood changes (e.g. irritability, frustration, etc.)
  • Dizziness
  • Hot flushes
  • Back pain
  • Poor vision
  • Chest tightness
Extremely high or low blood pressure can result from organ damage, dysfunction and/or failure. Under these circumstances, symptoms can become more severe. Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing [4]:
  • Severe headaches
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Paresthesia (e.g. burning, prickling or numbing sensations)
  • Sudden onset of weakness
  • Palpitations
  • Severe blood nose, especially if it does not stop for 15 minutes (please refer to Health Direct for more information)


What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Primary Hypertension

Primary hypertension refers to high blood pressure levels that aren't the result of an underlying condition. A combination of lifestyle factors, family history and aging increases the risk of developing this condition. Examples of common risk factors include [7]:
  • Being overweight and obese
  • Living a physically inactive and/or sedentary lifestyle
  • Having a family history of high blood pressure
  • Having diabetes (read more about diabetes)
  • Poor mental health
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Hypercholesterolaemia (high levels of cholesterol in the blood)

Secondary Hypertension

Secondary hypertension refers to high blood pressure levels caused by an underlying medical condition or changes to the body. Examples include [7]:
  • Kidney disease or dysfunction
  • Heart disease
  • Cardiac failure
  • Thyroid problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Problems with the blood vessels
  • Drug use


Tests and Diagnosis

High blood pressure is diagnosed after multiple elevated blood pressure readings by your GP. At least two readings are required to make sure that any previous reading(s) is not just part of your usual day-to-day fluctuations.

Blood Pressure Readings

Blood pressure readings can be measured with either a sphygmomanometer (upper arm cuff) or an electronic device that has been approved by the British Hypertension Society (approved devices have been listed on their website). Blood pressure readings can be taken by doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other relevant health professionals. However, they can also be measured at home, especially if you already possess an electronic blood pressure monitor. You can refer to the National Heart Foundation of Australia for more information about taking your blood pressure readings at home.

High Blood Pressure Treatment

After being formally diagnosed by your GP, you will be recommended treatments depending on the severity of your hypertension.


Your GP may prescribe antihypertensive drugs (medications for high blood pressure). Additionally, you may be monitored over weeks to months to make sure that the drug(s) is safe and effective [7]. Depending on your response, changes to your medications may be made. Your GP will also consider your underlying conditions and any other medicines that you may be taking before prescribing.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are essential for anyone with high blood pressure. Depending on your living situation, your GP will recommend lifestyle advice to reduce complications and your blood pressure readings. They may involve other health professionals to assist with successfully implementing these changes, such as a dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist. Examples of common lifestyle changes include [7]:
  • Increasing your physical activity and exercise
  • Managing your weight
  • Reducing intake of saturated fats, salt and/or sugar
  • Stop smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Stress management
  • Relaxation therapy



Long-term levels of uncontrolled and untreated high blood pressure can lead to multiple chronic and potentially fatal conditions, such as [7]:
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Vascular disease
  • Early death

Hypertensive Urgency

Severe episodes of high blood pressure, known as hypertensive urgency (systolic blood pressure >180mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure >110mmHg), can lead to severe symptoms and organ damage [7]. Immediate medical attention is recommended under these circumstances.

Hypertensive Emergencies

Hypertensive emergencies (systolic blood pressure >220mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure >140mmHg) can indicate organ dysfunction, damage and/or failure [7]. Hospitalisation for monitoring and treatment is recommended under these circumstances. If left untreated, it could result in poor health outcomes and even death.

Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.

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  5. Goodhart A. K. (2016). Hypertension from the patient's perspective. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 66(652), 570.