If you’re feeling pressure to keep your blood pressure in check, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure affects nearly half the adult population in the United States.1 That’s huge, especially when you consider the potential health risks of uncontrolled blood pressure conditions.
How blood pressure is measured
There are five blood pressure categories or ranges recognized by the American Heart Association (from normal to hypertensive crisis).2
Keep in mind, blood pressure measurement is recorded as two numbers:
Systolic blood pressure (the first/upper number) = blood pressure exerted against your artery walls when the heart beats.
Diastolic blood pressure (the second/lower number) = blood pressure exerted against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.
If, for example, a nurse or doctor tells you that your blood pressure is “110 over 70,” (110/70), your systolic pressure would be 110, and your diastolic pressure would be 70. As you can see from this chart, your blood pressure reading would be well within a normal blood pressure range, according to the American Heart Association:
Blood Pressure Category/Range
Systolic mm Hg (first/upper number)
Diastolic mm Hg (second/lower number)
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
Hypertensive Crisis (see your doctor immediately, given this is stroke level pressure)
Higher than 180
Higher than 120
It’s worth noting that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings are measured in mm Hg. This abbreviation refers to millimeters of mercury. Reason being: mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and remains the standard unit for blood pressure measurement today.
Increased risks related to high blood pressure
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension or HBP) has been called the “silent killer.” That’s because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, and many people don’t even know they have it. That’s why it’s so important to get regular blood pressure monitoring checks.
Having a systolic pressure of 130 or higher, or a diastolic pressure of 80 or higher, is defined as high blood pressure.
Health care providers generally point to systolic blood pressure (the first number) when considering major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (or heart disease) for people over 50. Systolic blood pressure tends to rise steadily with age. That’s due to an increase in stiffness of large arteries and long-term buildup of plaque.
Doing everything you can to be heart healthy and manage high blood pressure is well worth the effort. The sooner you can get a handle on high blood pressure, the better.
When your blood pressure stays high over time, it causes the heart to pump harder and work overtime, possibly leading to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure.3
Things you can do to improve your blood pressure
Taking an active role in your health care is so important. The good news is that many people can manage—and even substantially lower—their blood pressure simply by making some wise lifestyle changes.4 These can include:
Eating a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that favors vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, and chicken
Maintaining a healthy weight
Cutting down on sodium (salt)
Limiting alcohol (no more than one drink a day for women; two for men)
Increasing physical activity (it’s generally good to exercise for 30–40 minutes; three-four times per week)
Heathy lifestyle changes are always a good thing. Still, some people with high blood pressure may also require medication to manage their condition. Every patient’s case is unique—so your doctor can assess your situation.
Several types of blood pressure medications include:5
Angiotensin receptor blockers
Calcium channel blockers
Talk honestly with your doctor about everything from whether blood pressure medications might be right for you to how you can achieve your health care goals with the help of proper diet and exercise.