Blood Pressure Checks

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 To Ask Your Doctor

How can I change the way I live to lower my blood pressure?

  • What is a heart-healthy diet? Is it OK to ever eat something that is not heart healthy? What are some ways to eat healthy when I go to a restaurant?
  • Do I need to limit how much salt I use? Are there other spices that I can use to make my food taste good?
  • Is it OK to drink alcohol? How much is ok?
  • What can I do to quit using tobacco products? Is it ok to be around other people who are smoking?

Should I check my blood pressure at home?

  • What type of equipment should I buy? Where can I learn how to use it?
  • How often do I need to check my blood pressure? Should I write it down and bring it to my next visit?
  • If I cannot check my own blood pressure, where else can I have it checked?
  • What should my blood pressure reading be? Should I rest before taking my blood pressure?
  • When should I call my provider?

What is my cholesterol?

  • Do I need to take medicines for it?

Is it OK to be sexually active?

  • Is it safe to use sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra) for erection problems?

What medicines am I taking to treat high blood pressure?

  • Do they have any side effects? What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Is it ever safe to stop taking any of these medicines on my own?

How active can I be?

  • Do I need to have a stress test before I exercise?
  • Is it safe for me to exercise on my own?
  • Should I exercise inside or outside?
  • Which activities should I start with? Are there activities or exercises that are not safe for me?
  • How long and how intensely can I exercise?
  • What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising?