Your blood pressure measurement takes into account how much blood is passing through your blood vessels and the amount of resistance the blood meets while the heart is pumping. Narrow arteries increase resistance. The narrower your arteries are, the higher your blood pressure will be. Over the long term, increased pressure can cause serious health issues, including heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
Understanding blood pressure readings
|Blood pressure category
|Systolic mm Hg
|Diastolic mm Hg
|Less than 120
|Less than 80
|Less than 80
|High blood pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
|High blood pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
|140 or higher
|90 or higher
(consult your doctor immediately)
|Higher than 180
|Higher than 120
Source: American Heart Association
- Systolic pressure: This is the first (top) number. It indicates the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and pumps out blood.
- Diastolic pressure: This is the second (bottom) number. It’s the reading of the pressure in your arteries between beats of your heart.
Often, high blood pressure does not have any symptoms. However, sometimes people can experience:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- visual changes
- blood in the urine
Ways to Control your High Blood Pressure
- Lose extra pounds. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for high blood pressure. Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure.
- Reduce sodium. Keep daily sodium intake between 1,500 milligrams and 2,300 milligrams per day. The best way to reduce sodium is to cook fresh foods more often. Avoid eating restaurant food or prepackaged foods, which are often very high in sodium.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet with emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins like fish, and whole grains.
- Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure. People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries.
- Stop smoking. Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls.
- Limit alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men may affect your blood pressure.
- Reduce your stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. If you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only increase problems with high blood pressure.
- Monitor your blood pressure regularly.
When to see your doctor
The best way to prevent complications and avoid problems is to catch hypertension early. Because hypertension is often a silent condition, it can cause damage to your body for years before symptoms become obvious. If hypertension isn’t treated, you may face serious, even fatal, complications.
You can come into your doctor’s office for a blood pressure reading or your doctor may ask you to purchase a blood pressure cuff and take readings at home. A hypertension diagnosis is rarely given after just one reading. Your doctor needs to see evidence of a sustained problem. That’s because your environment can contribute to increased blood pressure, such as the stress you may feel by being at the doctor’s office. Also, blood pressure levels change throughout the day.
If your blood pressure remains high, your doctor will likely conduct more tests to rule out underlying conditions. These may include a urine test, cholesterol screening, other blood tests, an electrocardiogram (test your heart’s electrical activity), and/or an ultrasound. Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough. In addition to diet and exercise, your doctor may recommend medication to lower your blood pressure.