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What Is Blood Pressure?

Find Your Numbers & Learn How to Improve Them

You may have high blood pressure and not even know it. While 50 million Americans suffer from this affliction, 70 percent don’t have it under control. Another 45 million are at high risk of developing it. That’s a lot of people.

Are you one of them? You don’t have to be. High blood pressure is easily detectable and usually controllable.

What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm HG) and recorded as two numbers—systolic (pressure on the arterial walls as the heart contracts) over diastolic (pressure on the arterial walls as the heart relaxes between beats). Both numbers are important.

The following chart will help you recognize the differences between optimal and high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Categories for Adults
  Systolic   Diastolic
Optimal <120 mm Hg and <80 mm Hg
Normal <130 mm Hg and <85 mm Hg
High-Normal 130-139 mm Hg or 85-89 mm Hg
High Stage 1 140-159 mm Hg or 90-99 mm Hg
High Stage 2 160-179 mm Hg or
100-109 mm Hg
High Stage 3 >180 mm Hg or >110 mm Hg

Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. But when it stays elevated over time, then it is called high blood pressure (or hypertension). High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard, and the force of the blood flow can harm your arteries. This is especially dangerous when coupled with other risks, such as high cholesterol. High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms. If left uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, heart attack, and stroke.

But reducing your blood pressure by just 12 to 13 points can lower your risk of heart attack by 20 percent; stroke by 37 percent and cardiovascular death by 25 percent.

To lower your blood pressure, talk to your doctor first. Together you can start a treatment plan that will probably include lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, stress reduction and possible medications.

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Member Comments

  • Thank you for this article. Excellent information and chart.
  • Although I am in my late 30's, my blood pressure has never been an issue.
    Knowing that both of my parents have high blood pressure, I attempt to keep an eye on mine.
  • Thanks...I have had the "White Coat Syndrome" a few times too.
  • Surprised that you didn't include the low range. It is actually not great to get too low either.
  • Informative article, thanks!
  • I think the parameters now are 120/ 60.
  • Small changes lead to big changes and big changes lead to results.
  • My BP is actually low since reaching goal and maintaining! WORTH it in itself!
    My BP used to shoot to 190/100 but still not feel any kind of dizziness. Can you please explain why this is so? thanks.
    Howdy. I just signed up today! This is a great article and your website is really a wonderful resource when it comes to fitness and health. Hey, I'm sure your other readers will benefit from these, too. Check this out.
    My blood pressure is 127/ 68. I started a senior exercise class last week, its only twice a week. I have started walking. I need to work on eating the right foods.
    Three years ago my weight was at 187. By following diet and exercise advice from The Biggest Loser website, I was able to get down to 135. Unfortunately, by not watching what I'm eating, I've gone back up to 150. Even when my weight was down, it didn't affect my blood pressure. It was still over 140/90.
    i was on blood pressure meds for 37 years ,everytime went to drs it was over the top very high my dr did a 24 hour blood pressure test after i complained of dizzyness and feeling like i was going to pass out i have low blood pressure yes white coat now on no bp medicine
  • I am so for fortunate that although I am almost 80 years old (in Sept), my bp is normal.
  • My MIL was told by her cardiologist to wait 3 hrs after taking her B/P meds then sit and rest 15 min before taking her blood pressure. Even at the Dr office they take it then they would take it again later in the visit after she sat for a while.