Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of the arteries. It is measured using two numbers: systolic "over" diastolic (for example, 110 "over" 80 or 110/80). Systolic blood pressure is the pressure of blood flow when the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.

What the Numbers Mean

Category Systolic Diastolic Meaning
Normal less than
120
and less than
80
Good news! Maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep your blood pressure within normal limits. Have your blood pressure rechecked at least every 2 years.
Prehypertension 120-139 or 80-89 Your blood pressure could be a problem. Take steps now to be physically active, control your weight, eat healthfully, quit smoking, and manage stress. Have your blood pressure rechecked at least once a year.
Hypertension 140
or higher
or 90
or higher
You have high blood pressure. In addition to making positive lifestyle changes, you'll probably be prescribed at least one medication to help you keep your blood pressure below 140/90. Be sure to take your medication regularly as prescribed.

Why it's important

If blood pressure stays high for extended periods of time, the heart has to pump blood against more resistance. This makes the heart and arteries more prone to injury. High blood pressure (hypertension) is sometimes called "the silent killer" because many people have it without knowing it. If high blood pressure isn't detected and treated, it greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Risk factors

For most cases of high blood pressure, it's hard to pinpoint any one specific cause. However, a variety of factors increase your risk of high blood pressure:

Prevention

You can help prevent high blood pressure in these ways:

  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat sources of protein such as nuts and fish
  • Reduce the salt and sodium in your diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking

Diagnosis and treatment

Blood pressure is measured using a cuff on your arm. High blood pressure is often treated using medication, but lifestyle changes and managing stress can also help lower blood pressure.

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