High Blood Pressure

Woman with a stethoscope

Measuring blood pressure is a measurement of the force applied to the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body. Your blood pressure can be measured at home, or at your healthcare provider's office, pharmacies and many other places.

Being proactive about maintaining a healthy blood pressure can lower your risk of stroke, heart disease and other health problems.

How to prepare for a blood pressure test

  • Rest for at least five minutes before blood pressure is taken
  • Do not take your blood pressure when you are under stress, have had caffeine or used a tobacco product in the past 30 minutes, or have recently exercised
  • Remain seated with your legs uncrossed
  • Take two or three readings per sitting
  • Note the time of the reading
  • You may want to take your blood pressure in the morning and at night for a week at the same time every day

These tips will give you at least 12 readings and will help your healthcare provider make decisions about your blood pressure treatment needs.

What is blood pressure?

Normal blood pressure is important for proper blood flow to the body's organs and tissues. The force of the blood on the walls of the arteries is called blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured both as the heart contracts, which is called systole, and as it relaxes, which is called diastole.

If left untreated, high blood pressure can damage important organs, such as the brain and kidneys, as well as lead to a stroke.

Normal results

Blood pressure readings are usually given as two numbers. For example, your provider might tell you that your blood pressure is at or 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mm Hg). One or both of these numbers can be too high.

Normal blood pressure is when the top number (systolic blood pressure) is below 120 most of the time, and the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is below 80 most of the time (written as 120/80 mm Hg).

What abnormal results mean

  • If your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 130/80 mm Hg, you have elevated blood pressure.
  • If your blood pressure is higher than 130/80 but lower than 140/90 mm Hg, you have Stage 1 high blood pressure.
  • If your blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mm Hg, you have Stage 2 high blood pressure.

Most of the time, high blood pressure does not cause symptoms.

If you have diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems, or if you previously have had a stroke, your provider may want your blood pressure to be lower.

The most commonly used blood pressure targets for people with these medical problems are below 130 to 140/80 mm Hg.

What can you do about high blood pressure? 

For information about how to stay on top of high blood pressure, see a health tips video from lifestyle medicine physician, Dr. Scott Black.