Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

What’s High Blood Pressure? See the New Numbers

Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

Heart Health, Living Well

Blood pressure. It’s a set of numbers many of us keep close track of. Blood pressure measures the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart beats.

Your systolic pressure is the upper number — the pressure when your heart beats. Your diastolic pressure is the lower number — the pressure when your heart is resting between beats.

If you haven’t had a problem with high blood pressure (hypertension) previously, you should be aware that the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have issued revised blood pressure guidelines.

New Blood Pressure Guidelines

The guidelines redefine what’s considered high blood pressure. This condition is sometimes called the silent killer because it usually has no warning signs but can lead to life-threatening conditions such as stroke or heart attack.

The blood pressure guidelines now say: High blood pressure is defined as readings of 130 mm Hg and higher for the systolic blood pressure, or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. (Note: mm Hg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.) The guidelines now reflect health complications that can occur even at the lower blood pressure numbers.

The redefinitions are a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher as high blood pressure.

The change means about 46 percent of adults in the U.S. now meet the guidelines for high blood pressure. Under the old guidelines, 32 percent of adults met the high-blood-pressure guidelines.

However, the researchers expect only a small increase in the number of people who will require medication for high blood pressure.

Many with blood pressure that’s included in the redefined high blood pressure guidelines can treat their condition with lifestyle changes.

New Blood Pressure Categories

The new guidelines layout five categories:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Elevated: Top number (systolic) between 120-129 and bottom number (diastolic) less than 80.
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89.
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg.
  • Hypertensive crisis: Top number over 180 and/or bottom number over 120. These patients need prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems. They may require immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.

The new guidelines eliminate the category of prehypertension, which was used for blood pressures with a top number (systolic) between 120-139 mm Hg or a bottom number (diastolic) between 80-89 mm Hg. People with those readings now will be categorized as having either Elevated (120-129 and less than 80) or Stage I hypertension (130-139 or 80-89).

Previous guidelines classified 140/90 mm Hg as Stage 1 hypertension. This level is classified as Stage 2 hypertension under the new guidelines.

Young people should pay special attention to the new guidelines. The number of individuals with blood pressure considered high could triple among young men under age 45. Young women under 45 could see double the number of high blood pressure diagnoses.

Tips for Accurate Blood Pressure Measurement

The new guidelines also remind people that using proper technique to measure blood pressure is vital. Blood pressure levels should be an average of two or three readings on at least two different occasions.

And ask how to monitor your blood pressure at home. Using the correct technique and blood pressure device will give you an accurate measurement that’s less affected by factors such as being at the doctor’s office. Some people have a blood pressure increase when they’re at the doctor’s office.

If you have high blood pressure, ask your health care provider about steps you can take to control it. The steps may include:

  • Eating healthfully
  • Increasing your physical activity
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Managing stress

Your health care provider can give you more guidance tailored to your situation. 

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.


Blood Pressure Chart & Numbers (Normal Range, Systolic, Diastolic)

Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

Do you often wonder what your blood pressure numbers mean? Doctors call them systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure.

Knowing both is important and could save your life.

When your heart beats, it squeezes and pushes blood through your arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on those blood vessels, and that's your systolic blood pressure.

A normal systolic pressure is below 120.

A reading of 120-129 is elevated.

130-139 is stage 1 high blood pressure (also called hypertension).

140 or more is stage 2 hypertension.

180 or more is a hypertensive crisis. Call 911.

The diastolic reading, or the bottom number, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. This is the time when the heart fills with blood and gets oxygen.

A normal diastolic blood pressure is lower than 80. But even if your diastolic number is lower than 80, you can have elevated blood pressure if the systolic reading is 120-129.

80-89 is stage 1 hypertension.

90 or more is stage 2 hypertension.

120 or more is a hypertensive crisis. Call 911.

Our charts below have more details.

A doctor or nurse will measure your blood pressure with a small gauge attached to an inflatable cuff. It's simple and painless.

The person taking your blood pressure wraps the cuff around your upper arm. Some cuffs go around the forearm or wrist, but often they aren't as accurate.

Your doctor or nurse will use a stethoscope to listen to the blood moving through your artery.

She'll inflate the cuff to a pressure higher than your systolic blood pressure, and it will tighten around your arm. Then she'll release it. As the cuff deflates, the first sound she hears through the stethoscope is the systolic blood pressure. It sounds a whooshing noise. The point where this noise goes away marks the diastolic blood pressure.

In a blood pressure reading, the systolic number always comes first, and then the diastolic number. For example, your numbers may be “120 over 80” or written as 120/80.

  • If your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80), get it checked every year or more frequently as your doctor suggests.
  • If your blood pressure is elevated — systolic blood pressure between 120 and 129 or diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 — your doctor will probably want to check it every 3-6 months. He'll probably recommend lifestyle changes more exercise and a better diet.
  • If you have stage 1 hypertension — 130-139 over 89-90 — the doctor might suggest lifestyle changes and see you again in 3-6 months. Or he could tell you to make the changes and give you medication, then recheck your condition in a month. It depends on what other health conditions or risk factors you have.
  • Someone with stage 2 hypertension — 140/90 or higher — will ly get medication. You'll also be asked to make lifestyle changes and see the doctor again in a month.

Keeping track of blood pressure at home is important for many people, especially if you have high blood pressure. This helps you and your doctor find out if your treatment is working.

Your doctor may also suggest that you check your pressure at home if she thinks you may have “white coat hypertension.” It's a real condition. The stress of being in a doctor's office raises your blood pressure, but when you're home, it's normal.

Ask your doctor to recommend an easy-to-use home blood pressure monitor. Make sure the cuff fits properly. If your arm is too big for the cuff, the reading may be higher than your blood pressure really is. Ask your doctor for a larger cuff or make sure you buy a home monitor with a cuff that fits you.

You also can use a wrist blood pressure monitor, but they often aren't as accurate. Follow the directions that come with the device to make sure you are using it correctly.

No matter which type of blood pressure monitor you have, it's a good idea to take it to your doctor's office. You can compare its reading to the numbers your doctor gets. Avoid caffeine, cigarettes, and exercise for at least 30 minutes before the test.

When you take your blood pressure at home, sit up straight in a chair and put both feet on the floor. Ask your doctor or nurse to show you the right way to position your arm so you get accurate readings.

Check it at the same time of day so the readings are consistent. Then, take several readings about 1 minute apart. Be sure to write down the results.

Take the blood pressure journal to your doctor's office so you can talk about any changes in your numbers. Your doctor will decide whether you need medications.

Even if your blood pressure is high, you probably won't have symptoms. That's why it's often called the “silent killer.” The first symptom of untreated high blood pressure may be a heart attack, stroke, or kidney damage

JAMA: Patient Page: “Hypertension.” American Heart Association: “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings,” “What is High Blood Pressure?” AHA HeartHub for Patients: “High Blood Pressure.”

JAMA: “The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure.”

American College of Cardiology: “2017 Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults.”

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. High Blood Pressure in African-Americans


What do Blood Pressure Readings mean?

Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

  • What do your blood pressure numbers mean?
    The only way to know (diagnose) if you have high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is to have your blood pressure tested. Understanding your blood pressure numbers is key to controlling high blood pressure.

    Healthy and unhealthy blood pressure ranges
    Learn what’s considered normal, as recommended by the American Heart Association.

    Blood PressureCategorySystolicmm Hg (upper #)Diastolicmm Hg (lower #)Normalless than 120andless than 80Prehypertension120139or8089High Blood Pressure(Hypertension) Stage 1140159or9099High Blood Pressure(Hypertension) Stage 2160 or higheror100 or higherHypertensive Crisis(Emergency care needed)Higher than 180orHigher than 110

    Blood pressure categories
    The five blood pressure ranges as recognized by the American Heart Association are:

    • Normal blood pressureCongratulations on having blood pressure numbers that are within the normal (optimal) range of less than 120/80 mm Hg. Keep up the good work and stick with heart-healthy habits  following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
    • Prehypertension (early stage high blood pressure)Prehypertension is when blood pressure is consistently ranging from 120-139/80-89 mm Hg. People with prehypertension are ly to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control it.
    • Hypertension Stage 1Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure is consistently ranging from 140-159/90-99 mm Hg. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are ly to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication.
    • Hypertension Stage 2Hypertension Stage 2 is when blood pressure is consistently ranging at levels greater than 160/100 mm Hg. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are ly to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications along with lifestyle changes.
    • Hypertensive crisisThis is when high blood pressure requires emergency medical attention. If your blood pressure is higher than 180/110 mm Hg and you are NOT experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, changes in vision or difficulty speaking, wait about five minutes and take it again. If the reading is still at or above that level, you should CALL 9-1-1 and get help immediately. Learn more about the two types of hypertensive crises.

    Your blood pressure numbers and what they mean
    Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers:

    • Systolic blood pressure (the upper number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.
    • Diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

    Which number is more important?
    Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure (the top number) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50.

    In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease. However, elevated systolic or diastolic blood pressure alone may be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure.

    And, according to recent studies, the risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people from age 40 to 89.

    Why blood pressure is measured in mm Hg
    The abbreviation mm Hg means millimeters of mercury. Why mercury? Mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and is still used as the standard unit of measurement for pressure in medicine.


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    High Blood Pressure

    Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

    On this page:

    You can have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and still feel just fine. That's because high blood pressure often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel.

    But, high blood pressure, sometimes called “the silent killer,” is very common in older people and a major health problem.

    If high blood pressure isn't controlled with lifestyle changes and medicine, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, eye problems, kidney failure, and other health problems. High blood pressure can also cause shortness of breath during light physical activity or exercise.

    What Is Blood Pressure?

    Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries. When the doctor measures your blood pressure, the results are given in two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, is the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood.

    The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure when your heart relaxes and fills with blood. Your blood pressure reading is usually given as the systolic blood pressure number over the diastolic blood pressure number, such as 138/72.

    Normal blood pressure for adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. This is stated as 120/80.

    Do I Have High Blood Pressure?

    One reason to visit your doctor regularly is to have your blood pressure checked. Routine checks of your blood pressure will help pick up an early rise in blood pressure, even though you might feel fine.

    If there's an indication that your blood pressure is high at two or more checkups, the doctor may ask you to check your blood pressure at home at different times of the day.

    If the pressure stays high, even when you are relaxed, the doctor may suggest exercise, changes in your diet, and, most ly, medications.

    Recent updates to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension for most people. High blood pressure is now generally defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number (previously it was 140/90).

    However, there are important considerations for older adults in deciding whether to start treatment for high blood pressure, including other health conditions and overall fitness.

    If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your doctor will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.

    What if Just the First Blood Pressure Number Is High?

    For older people, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension, which is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries.

    It is the most common form of high blood pressure in older people and can lead to serious health problems (stroke, heart disease, eye problems, and kidney failure) in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, lightheadedness upon standing too fast, and falls.

    Isolated systolic hypertension is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure (130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number) but may require more than one type of blood pressure medication.

    If your doctor determines that your systolic pressure is above a normal level for your age, ask how you can lower it.

    What if My Blood Pressure Is Low?

    If your blood pressure is lower than 90/60, you have low blood pressure, or hypotension. You may feel lightheaded, weak, dizzy, or even faint. Low blood pressure can be caused by not drinking enough liquids (dehydration), blood loss, some medical conditions, or too much medication.

    Some High Blood Pressure Risks You Can't Change

    Anyone can get high blood pressure. But, some people have a greater chance of having it because of things they can't change. These are:

    • Age. The chance of having high blood pressure increases as you get older.
    • Gender. Before age 55, men have a greater chance of having high blood pressure. Women are more ly to have high blood pressure after menopause.
    • Family history. High blood pressure tends to run in some families.
    • Race. African Americans are at increased risk for high blood pressure.

    How Can I Control My Blood Pressure?

    High blood pressure is very common in older people. As we age, our vascular system changes. Arteries get stiffer, so blood pressure goes up. This is true even for people who have heart-healthy habits. The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled in most people.

    There are many lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of high blood pressure:

    • Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight adds to your risk of high blood pressure. Ask your doctor if you need to lose weight.
    • Exercise every day. Moderate exercise can lower your risk of high blood pressure. Set some goals so you can exercise safely and work your way up to exercising at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise plan if you have any health problems that are not being treated. 
    • Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products may help to lower blood pressure.
    • Cut down on salt. As you get older, the body and blood pressure become more sensitive to salt (sodium), so you may need to watch how much salt is in your diet. Most of the salt comes from processed foods (for example, soup and baked goods). A low-salt diet, such as the DASH diet, might help lower your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about eating less salt.
    • Drink less alcohol. Drinking alcohol can affect your blood pressure. Men should not have more than two drinks a day and women no more than one a day to lower their risk of high blood pressure.
    • Don't smoke. Smoking increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. If you smoke, quit. You are never too old to quit, and the health benefits of quitting can be seen at any age.
    • Get a good night's sleep. Tell your doctor if you've been told you snore or sound you stop breathing for moments when you sleep. This may be a sign of a problem called sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea and getting a good night's sleep can help to lower blood pressure.
    • Manage stress. Relaxing and coping with problems can help lower high blood pressure.

    If these lifestyle changes don't lower your blood pressure to a safe level, your doctor will also prescribe medicine.

    You may try several kinds or combinations of medicines before finding a plan that works best for you. Medicine can control your blood pressure, but it can't cure it.

    You will ly need to take medicine for the rest of your life. Plan with your doctor how to manage your blood pressure.

    High Blood Pressure Facts

    High blood pressure is serious because it can lead to major health problems. Make a point of learning what blood pressure should be. And, remember:

    • High blood pressure may not make you feel sick, but it is serious. See a doctor to treat it.
    • You can lower your blood pressure by changing your day-to-day habits and by taking medicine, if needed.
    • If you take high blood pressure medicine, making some lifestyle changes may help lower the dose you need.
    • If you take blood pressure medicine and your blood pressure goes down, it means medicine and lifestyle changes are working. If another doctor asks if you have high blood pressure, the answer is, “Yes, but it is being treated.”
    • Tell your doctor about all the drugs you take. Don't forget to mention over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary supplements. They may affect your blood pressure. They also can change how well your blood pressure medicine works.
    • Blood pressure pills should be taken at the same time each day. For example, take your medicine in the morning with breakfast or in the evening after brushing your teeth. If you miss a dose, do not double the dose the next day.
    • Don't take more of your blood pressure medicine than your doctor prescribes. Do not stop taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to stop. Don't skip a day or take half a pill. Remember to refill your medicine before you run pills. If you cannot afford your medicines, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Before having surgery, ask your doctor if you should take your blood pressure medicine on that day.
    • Get up slowly from a seated or lying position and stand for a bit before walking. This lets your blood pressure adjust before walking to prevent dizziness, fainting, or a fall.
    • As you get older, high blood pressure, especially isolated systolic hypertension, is more common and can increase your risk of serious health problems. Treatment, especially if you have other medical conditions, requires ongoing evaluation and discussions with your doctor to strike the best balance of reducing risks and maintaining a good quality of life.

    If your doctor asks you to take your blood pressure at home, keep in mind:

    • There are many home blood pressure monitors for sale. Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist which monitor you need and how to use it. Have your monitor checked at the doctor's office to make sure it works correctly.
    • Avoid smoking, exercise, and caffeine 30 minutes before checking your blood pressure.
    • Make sure you are sitting with your feet uncrossed and on the floor, and that your back is resting against something.
    • Relax quietly for 5 minutes before checking your blood pressure.
    • Keep a list of your blood pressure numbers, what time you measured your blood pressure, and when you took your blood pressure medication (if you take it). Share this information with your doctor, physician's assistant, or nurse.

    Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

    For More Information About High Blood Pressure

    MedlinePlusNational Library of Medicine  

    This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.

    Content reviewed: May 02, 2018


    Blood Pressure Basics: What Do Those Numbers Mean?

    Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

    Every time we visit a doctor or go to an emergency room, we get our vital signs and blood pressure checked. We all know that high blood pressure can cause serious problems stroke, heart failure, heart attacks, and kidney failure. But when the medical assistant gives you a reading of “140 over 90” or “119 over 79,” do you know what those numbers mean?

    No, these aren’t math fractions you must solve. Each number has a specific meaning that reflects the amount of force in relation to your blood and heart. If you’re not quite sure how to interpret the numbers from your reading, you can start right here by learning the basics of blood pressure:

    What is Blood Pressure?

    It is the force of your blood pushing against your arteries and is the mechanism by which blood is transported through your body. Healthy blood pressure ensures that your entire body is receiving the blood it needs to function, but it can also cause problems.

    People with high blood pressure are at risk of strokes because the pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst or clog more easily. wise, it can damage the arteries around the kidneys and prevent them from effectively filtering blood.

    Low blood pressure also has serious side effects, leading to fainting, dizziness, and even heart attacks or kidney failure in severe cases.

    What is Systolic Blood Pressure?

    Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart is contracting. This is represented by the first number in your reading.

    What is Diastolic Blood Pressure?

    Diastolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest. Your diastolic pressure is the second number in your blood pressure reading.

    What is the Range for Normal and High Blood Pressure?

    If your reading is 119/79, you’re within normal range. But if you get a reading of 140/90 or above, your blood pressure is on the high side.

    You want your systolic pressure (the first number that is recited to you) to fall between 120 and 139, and your diastolic pressure (the second number in your reading) to fall between 80 and 89.

    However, if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, you should try to keep your numbers below 130/80.

    How Do You Prevent High Blood Pressure?

    • Limit the amount of sodium you consume.
    • Add more potassium to your diet.
    • Eat low fat foods veggies, fruit, and whole grains.
    • Exercise regularly. Take a brisk walk for a half hour every day or engage in a one-hour high-intensity workout twice a week.
    • Limit your alcohol consumption.
    • Quit smoking.
    • Find ways to de-stress through meditation, hiking, or engaging in hobbies.
    • Take blood pressure medicines as prescribed.

    When to Go to the ER

    If you have high blood pressure or know you are at risk, consider purchasing an inexpensive monitor for the home. Call a doctor whenever you get a reading over 140/90, but if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms or you get a reading higher than 180/110, go the ER:

    • Severe headache
    • Blurry vision
    • Heart attack symptoms chest pain, sweating, and nausea.
    • Stroke symptoms numbness, tingling, weakness, and vision changes.

    To stay informed about the latest health topics or to keep up with what’s going on at Hospitality Health ER, us on .


    What’s in a number? Blood pressure explained

    Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

    Recently updated blood pressure guidelines have a lot of people looking at their numbers. But what exactly do those numbers mean? Below, Dr. Will Baker, a cardiologist with UCHealth Heart and Vascular Clinics in Steamboat Springs and Craig, outlines what you need to know about blood pressure.

    The basics

    A blood pressure reading is made up of two numbers expressed as a fraction. The top number, or systolic pressure, measures how much pressure is in the arteries when the heart contracts. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, measures the blood pressure between beats.

    “When your heart pumps, all that blood rushes and fills your arteries,” Baker said. “It’s just plumbing: if you’re pumping more water into the system, the pressure inside the plumbing goes up. That’s your systolic reading. When the heart relaxes and fills, the blood pressure falls and you get the lower number, or your diastolic reading.”

    Which number matters more?

    The answer is both. Years ago, doctors focused more on the bottom number, but it is now understood that the top number is just as important.

    “Both numbers can define high blood pressure and the need for treatment,” Baker said.

    A normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80. Readings above that are now considered elevated or high. The new guidelines, which were announced last November and are years of data, now mean that many more Americans are categorized as having high blood pressure.

    “High blood pressure is not a disease by itself, but it’s a risk factor for things heart attack, kidney failure, stroke and more,” Baker said. “The new guidelines don’t necessarily mean that many more people have to be on medication. They just mean a very large number of people need to be aware they have elevated or high blood pressure and need to do something about it.”

    Measure multiple times

    One high blood pressure reading does not mean you have high blood pressure. Especially if that reading was taken minutes after you walked into a doctor’s office feeling stressed because you were late.

    Patients should be relaxed and sitting quietly before a reading is taken. If the reading is high, another reading should be taken.

    Baker also recommends using a blood pressure cuff at home to monitor progress of treatment. Be sure you’re relaxed and sitting, and take the average of two or three consecutive readings.

    “Everybody’s blood pressure fluctuates from day to day, across times of day,” Baker said. “We’re really looking at your average trend.”

    What causes high blood pressure?

    Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer. High blood pressure can be caused by anything from kidney function to blood vessel health to hormones.

    “It’s really a complicated system,” Baker said. “Many things can play a part in determining a person’s blood pressure.”

    That’s one reason different blood pressure medications affect different processes, such as kidney function, fluid retention and even the nervous system.

    What you can do

    Treatment for high blood pressure varies depending on your numbers, family history and other factors, such as whether you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, or whether you suffer from diabetes or kidney disease.

    But everyone with elevated readings can benefit from lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol and quitting smoking.

    “ all lifestyle treatments, it takes a real commitment,” Baker said.

    This hard work does pay off, as results are usually seen in two or three months.

    “I’ve seen people focus on their lifestyle and within three months, they see a five to 10 point drop,” Baker said. “You can see pretty quick results.”

    This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Feb. 5, 2018.


    Reading the new blood pressure guidelines

    Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?
    Harvard Men's Health Watch

    If you didn't have high blood pressure before, there's a good chance you do now.

    In 2017, new guidelines from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and nine other health organizations lowered the numbers for the diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) to 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and higher for all adults. The previous guidelines set the threshold at 140/90 mm Hg for people younger than age 65 and 150/80 mm Hg for those ages 65 and older.

    This means 70% to 79% of men ages 55 and older are now classified as having hypertension. That includes many men whose blood pressure had previously been considered healthy. Why the change?

    Behind the numbers

    “Blood pressure guidelines are not updated at regular intervals. Instead, they are changed when sufficient new evidence suggests the old ones weren't accurate or relevant anymore,” says Dr.

    Paul Conlin, an endocrinologist with Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

    “The goal now with the new guidelines is to help people address high blood pressure — and the problems that may accompany it heart attack and stroke — much earlier.”

    The new guidelines stem from the 2017 results of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), which studied more than 9,000 adults ages 50 and older who had systolic blood pressure (the top number in a reading) of 130 mm Hg or higher and at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

    The study's aim was to find out whether treating blood pressure to lower the systolic number to 120 mm Hg or less was superior to the standard target of 140 mm Hg or less.

    The results found that targeting a systolic pressure of no more than 120 mm Hg reduced the chance of heart attacks, heart failure, or stroke over a three-year period.

    More than blood pressure

    The new guidelines have other changes, too. First, they don't offer different recommendations for people younger or older than age 65. “This is because the SPRINT study looked at all patients regardless of age and didn't break down groups above or below a certain age,” says Dr. Conlin.

    The guidelines also redefined the various categories of hypertension.

    It eliminated the category of prehypertension, which had been defined as systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure (the lower number in a reading) of 80 to 89 mm Hg.

    Instead, people with those readings are now categorized as having either elevated pressure (120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic) or Stage 1 hypertension (130 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic).

    A reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is considered Stage 2 hypertension, and anything higher than 180/120 mm Hg is hypertensive crisis.

    The new guidelines note that blood pressure should be measured on a regular basis and encourage people to use home blood pressure monitors. Monitors can range from $40 to $100 on average, but your insurance may cover part or all of the cost. Measure your blood pressure a few times a week and see your doctor if you notice any significant changes. Here are some tips on how to choose and use a monitor.Choosing
    • Select a monitor that goes around your upper arm. Wrist and finger monitors are not as precise.
    • Select an automated monitor, which has a cuff that inflates itself.
    • Look for a digital readout that is large and bright enough to see clearly.
    • Consider a monitor that also plugs into your smartphone to transfer the readings to an app, which then creates a graph of your progress. Some devices can send readings wirelessly to your phone.


    • Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages 30 minutes beforehand.
    • Sit quietly for five minutes with your back supported and your legs uncrossed.
    • Support your arm so your elbow is at or near heart level.
    • Wrap the cuff over bare skin.
    • Don't talk during the measurement.
    • Leave the deflated cuff in place, wait a minute, then take a second reading. If the readings are close, average them. If not, repeat again and average the three readings.
    • Keep a record of your blood pressure readings, including the time of day.

    What should you do?

    If you had previously been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the new guidelines don't affect you too much, says Dr. Conlin, as you still need to continue your efforts to lower it through medication, diet, exercise, and weight loss. “However, new information in the guidelines, your doctor may propose treating your blood pressure to a lower level,” he says.

    The larger issue is that many men ages 65 and older suddenly find themselves diagnosed with elevated or high blood pressure, since the new normal is a whopping 20 points lower than before. Does this mean an automatic prescription for blood pressure drugs? Not necessarily.

    “They should consult with their doctor about first adjusting lifestyle habits, such as getting more exercise, losing weight, and following a heart-healthy diet the DASH or Mediterranean diet,” says Dr. Conlin.

    Medications are recommended to lower blood pressure in Stage 1 hypertension if you've already had a heart attack or stroke or if your 10-year risk of a heart attack is higher than 10%. (You can find your 10-year estimation at For others with Stage 1 hypertension, lifestyle changes alone are recommended.

    “Overall, the new guidelines may help people get more involved with monitoring their blood pressure, which can hopefully prevent complications from hypertension,” says Dr. Conlin.

    As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.


    Blood pressure readings: What they mean

    Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? What Do Those Numbers Mean?

    Blood pressure is the force of a person’s blood pushing against their artery walls. A person’s blood pressure can become too low or too high. When it becomes too high, it can lead to potential health complications.

    Often, people do not experience symptoms of high blood pressure, or hypertension. This means that it is important for people to get their blood pressure checked regularly, particularly if they are older or have a history of heart complications.

    High blood pressure can also lead to other complications, such as:

    • eye problems
    • stroke
    • kidney failure
    • heart disease

    (mm Hg). When a person’s blood pressure is higher than the normal range, they may have elevated blood pressure or hypertension.

    A person’s blood pressure can also drop too low. A lower than normal blood pressure can also lead to health issues.

    If it drops too low, a person may feel faint, lightheaded, or dizzy. If a person has consistently low readings, they should talk to their doctor.

    There are five categories of blood pressure:

    Normal range

    According to the AHA, a normal blood pressure reading is no more than 120/80 mm Hg. Consistently higher numbers may mean a person has elevated blood pressure or hypertension.

    Elevated range

    An elevated blood pressure range occurs when a person has a systolic reading of between 120–129 and a diastolic reading below 80.

    A person with elevated blood pressure is more ly to develop hypertension unless they take steps to lower it.

    Hypertension: Stage 1

    A person who has stage 1 hypertension consistently has blood pressure readings of between 130–139 systolic and 80–89 diastolic.

    A doctor will ly advise a person to make lifestyle changes and may also prescribe blood pressure medication to reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

    Hypertension: Stage 2

    A person who has stage 2 hypertension consistently has blood pressure readings that are around 140/90 mm Hg or higher.

    A person will ly need to take blood pressure medication and make lifestyle changes to help lower their blood pressure.

    Hypertensive crisis

    A hypertensive crisis occurs if a person suddenly has a blood pressure reading of 180/120 mm Hg. If this occurs, a person should wait for 5 minutes and remeasure their blood pressure. If the readings are still high, seek medical help from the doctor.

    A person may be experiencing organ damage if the readings are high, and they develop these symptoms:

    • shortness of breath
    • numbness or weakness
    • change in vision
    • chest pain
    • back pain
    • difficulty speaking

    If a person experiences these symptoms, they should call 911 immediately.

    If someone is experiencing a hypertensive crisis, along with signs of organ failure, they should seek emergency medical help.

    A person with a history of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, or other cardiac issues should regularly see their doctor for blood pressure checks. They may also want to check their pressure at home regularly.

    A person should see their doctor if their blood pressure is higher than the normal readings to understand what the cause is and how to treat it.

    People measure blood pressure using two numbers that represent the pressure the blood exerts on the arteries as the heart contracts and relaxes.

    Doctors consider a person’s blood pressure to be in the normal range when they have readings consistently below 120/80.

    Higher readings can indicate a person has elevated or hypertension. If left untreated, this can lead to cardiac issues.

    A person can make changes in their diet and exercise regime to help keep their blood pressure under control.