By James M. Rippe

Many people mistakenly think that you either have hypertension or you don’t. In fact, blood pressure readings span a continuum ranging all the way from normal to severely elevated. Experiencing one elevated reading does not mean that you have hypertension. Everyone’s blood pressure tends to spike up in situations that produce anger, pain, fear, or high stress.

For example, your blood pressure probably rises when you have a shouting match with a family member, give a speech, or interview for a new position — maybe even when you visit your friendly doctor. Blood pressure also varies during the day. It’s usually lower when you are resting or sleeping, for example.

Having hypertension means that your blood pressure is consistently elevated above the normal ranges. (It doesn’t mean that you are super-tense. Even the calmest, most laid-back individuals can have high blood pressure.) And knowing whether you have it is no do-it-yourself diagnosis, either. You need to have your blood pressure checked regularly, ideally as part of a regular periodic checkup.

If you happen to check your blood pressure at a health fair, for example, and it’s elevated, be sure to see your physician. Your physician will take your blood pressure readings on several occasions to determine whether your blood pressure is consistently elevated, and if it is, how severely elevated it is.