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Blood Pressure Readings Explained

November 21, 2022

You likely already know that your blood pressure is important, and that it can affect your health in many ways.

But what exactly is a healthy blood pressure reading, and what do your blood pressure numbers mean?

What do the numbers mean?

When a healthcare professional takes your blood pressure, it’s expressed as a measurement with two numbers, one number on top (systolic) and one on the bottom (diastolic), like a fraction. For example, 120/80 mm Hg.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. That’s what the mm/Hg stands for. Here’s what the numbers mean:

  • Your systolic pressure (the top number) is the pressure of the blood in your arteries when your heart contracts or beats.
  • Your diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is the pressure of the blood in your arteries between beats, when your heart relaxes.

Both numbers are important in determining the state of your heart health.

Numbers greater than the ideal range may be a sign that your heart is working too hard to pump blood to the rest of your body.

 

What’s considered a normal reading?

For a normal reading, your blood pressure needs to show:

  • a systolic pressure that’s above 90 mm Hg and less than 120 mm Hg, and
  • a diastolic pressure that’s between 60 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg

The American Heart Association (AHA)Trusted Source considers blood pressure to be within the normal range when both your systolic and diastolic numbers are in these ranges.

If you’re in the normal range, no medical intervention is needed. However, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and moderate weight to help prevent high blood pressure from developing.

You may need to be even more mindful of your lifestyle if high blood pressure runs in your family.

NORMAL BLOOD PRESSURE

A normal blood pressure reading for an adult is blood pressure that’s below 120/80 mm Hg and above 90/60 mm Hg.

 

What’s considered elevated blood pressure?

Blood pressure numbers that are higher than 120/80 mm Hg are a warning sign. It means you need to pay attention to your blood pressure and focus on heart-healthy habits.

Although these numbers aren’t technically considered high blood pressure, you’ve moved out of the normal range. Elevated blood pressure may turn into high blood pressure, which puts you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

ELEVATED BLOOD PRESSURE

When your systolic pressure is between 120 and 129 mm Hg and your diastolic pressure is less than 80 mm Hg, it means you have elevated blood pressure.

No medications are necessary for elevated blood pressure. But your doctor may talk with you about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, such as getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and managing your weight.

What’s stage 1 hypertension?

You may receive a diagnosis of stage 1 hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) if:

 

your systolic blood pressure is between 130 and 139 mm Hg, or

your diastolic blood pressure is between 80 and 89 mm Hg

However, the AHATrusted Source notes that if you get only one reading this high, you may not truly have stage 1 hypertension. What determines the diagnosis of hypertension at any stage is the average of your blood pressure numbers over a period of time.

 

Your doctor can help you measure and track your blood pressure to confirm whether it’s too high.

 

STAGE 1 HYPERTENSION

If your systolic blood pressure is 130 to 139 mm Hg or your diastolic blood pressure is 80 to 89 mm Hg, it’s considered stage 1 hypertension.

 

If you’re at lower risk, your doctor may want to follow up in 3 to 6 months after you’ve adopted healthier habits.

 

If you’re 65 years or older and otherwise healthy, your doctor will likely recommend treatment and lifestyle changes once your systolic blood pressure is greater than 130 mm Hg.

 

The treatment for adults 65 and older who have significant health problems should be made on a case-by-case basis.

 

Treating high blood pressure in older adults appears to decrease memory problems and dementia.

 

What’s stage 2 hypertension?

Stage 2 hypertension indicates a more serious condition.

 

You may receive a diagnosis of stage 2 hypertension if:

 

your systolic blood pressure is 140 mm Hg or higher, or

your diastolic blood pressure is 90 mm Hg or higher

At this stage, your doctor will recommend one or more medications to manage your blood pressure.

 

Medications aren’t the only treatment for this stage, though. Lifestyle habits are just as important in stage 2 hypertension as they are in the other stages.

 

STAGE 2 HYPERTENSION

If your systolic blood pressure is 140 mm Hg or higher or your diastolic blood pressure is 90 mm Hg or higher, it’s considered stage 2 hypertension.

 

What’s a hypertensive crisis?

A blood pressure reading above 180/120 mm Hg indicates a serious health problem. The AHATrusted Source refers to these high measurements as a “hypertensive crisis.” Blood pressure in this range requires urgent treatment, even if there are no accompanying symptoms.

Seek emergency medical treatment if you have blood pressure in this range. You may also have symptoms such as:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • visual changes
  • symptoms of stroke, such as paralysis or a loss of muscle control in the face and an extremity
  • blood in your urine
  • dizziness
  • headache

However, sometimes a high reading can occur temporarily, and then your numbers will return to normal. If your blood pressure measures at this level, your doctor will likely take a second reading after a few minutes.

If your second blood pressure reading is also above 180/120 mm Hg, you’ll need immediate treatment.

HYPERTENSIVE CRISIS

A blood pressure reading above 180/120 mm Hg is considered a hypertensive crisis and could be dangerous. You’ll need treatment as soon as possible.