"Blood pressure" is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage the body in many ways.
About 1 in 3 adults in the United States has HBP. The condition itself usually has no signs or symptoms. You can have it for years without knowing it. During this time, though, HBP can damage your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of your body.
Knowing your blood pressure numbers is important, even when you're feeling fine. If your blood pressure is normal, you can work with your health care team to keep it that way. If your blood pressure is too high, treatment may help prevent damage to your body's organs.
Blood Pressure Numbers
Blood pressure is measured as systolic (sis-TOL-ik) and diastolic (di-ah-STOL-ik) pressures. "Systolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. "Diastolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.
You most often will see blood pressure numbers written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHg. (The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.)
The table below shows normal blood pressure numbers for adults. It also shows which numbers put you at greater risk for health problems.
Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults (measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg)
|Normal||Less than 120||And||Less than 80|
|High blood pressure|
|Stage 2||160 or higher||Or||100 or higher|
The ranges in the table apply to most adults (aged 18 and older) who don't have short-term serious illnesses.
Blood pressure doesn't stay the same all the time. It lowers as you sleep and rises when you wake up. Blood pressure also rises when you're excited, nervous, or active. If your numbers stay above normal most of the time, you're at risk for health problems. The risk grows as blood pressure numbers rise. "Prehypertension" means you may end up with HBP, unless you take steps to prevent it.
If you're being treated for HBP and have repeat readings in the normal range, your blood pressure is under control. However, you still have the condition. You should see your doctor and follow your treatment plan to keep your blood pressure under control.
Your systolic and diastolic numbers may not be in the same blood pressure category. In this case, the more severe category is the one you're in. For example, if your systolic number is 160 and your diastolic number is 80, you have stage 2 HBP. If your systolic number is 120 and your diastolic number is 95, you have stage 1 HBP.
If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, HBP is defined as 130/80 mmHg or higher. HBP numbers also differ for children and teens. (For more information, go to "How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?")
Blood pressure tends to rise with age. Following a healthy lifestyle helps some people delay or prevent this rise in blood pressure.
People who have HBP can take steps to control it and reduce their risk for related health problems. Key steps include following a healthy lifestyle, having ongoing medical care, and following your treatment plan.
Sources: National Center for Health Statistics. (2007–2010). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Vital signs: prevalence, treatment, and control of hypertension, 1999–2002 and 2005–2008. MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 60(4), 103–108; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National High Blood Pressure Education Program. (2004). The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure.
Myth-busting blood pressure - a hypertension Google+ hangout in honor of World Hypertension Day04/17/2013
The NHLBI "Grand Opportunity" Exome Sequencing Project05/15/2012
Managing High Blood Pressure With Lifestyle Changes05/17/2011
This video—presented by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health—shows how Kendra, the mother of a teenaged daughter, has learned to manage her high blood pressure. Before being diagnosed with high blood pressure, Kendra suffered from chronic headaches and tiredness. At a health fair sponsored by her company, Kendra learned that her blood pressure was high, which prompted her to see her doctor.
After being diagnosed with high blood pressure, Kendra made a commitment to living a healthier lifestyle. By following a healthy diet and being physically active, she lost almost 60 pounds. With the support of her girlfriend and daughter, Kendra has maintained her weight loss and continues to make lifestyle changes that allow her to live an active, happy life.
For more information about managing high blood pressure with lifestyle changes, go to the Health Topics High Blood Pressure article.