Blood Pressure Ranges Explained

blood pressure monitor

Story at-a-glance -

  • A blood pressure reading that’s consistently high is considered abnormal and should be addressed immediately
  • Knowing what range your blood pressure reading falls into is extremely important, since it may help you determine if you’re still in good health or if you need to take some measures to control your blood pressure levels

Blood pressure is extremely important when it comes to sustaining life, as it forces blood to circulate throughout your body and deliver oxygen and nutrients to various organs.1 Keep in mind that your blood pressure levels naturally change throughout the day as a response to environmental and behavioral factors.2

However, a blood pressure reading that’s consistently high is considered abnormal and should be addressed immediately.3 But the question is, how do you know if your blood pressure reading is considered normal or high?

Here’s What a Normal Blood Pressure Should Be

If you’ve ever had your blood pressure taken, you’ll know that it’s expressed as a measurement with two figures, like a fraction. The top figure is the systolic pressure and the bottom figure is the diastolic pressure.4

The systolic pressure is the force that blood exerts on the arteries when the heart beats, and it’s normally higher than 90 mmHg but lower than 120 mmHg. Meanwhile, the diastolic pressure is the force that blood exerts on the arteries while the heart is in rest, and its ideal measurement is higher than 60 mmHg but lower than 80 mmHg.

While both of these figures are important when identifying your blood pressure range, the systolic pressure is usually given more attention, since it may indicate your risk of having cardiovascular disease. However, a rise in either your systolic or diastolic blood pressure alone may still be used to diagnose hypertension.5

Understanding the Different Ranges of Blood Pressure

In November 2017 the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute published updated guidelines for blood pressure, redefining “high” blood pressure, eliminating the singular term “hypertension” and redefining blood pressure as various stages, including normal, elevated and stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension. A fifth stage, “hypertension crisis,” was also added.6

Knowing what range your blood pressure reading falls into is extremely important, since it may help you determine if you’re still in good health or if you need to take some measures to control your blood pressure levels. Here’s a simple chart to help you identify which category you fall into:7

Blood Pressure Category

Systolic Pressure (mmHg)

Diastolic Pressure (mmHg)

Normal

Less than 120

Less than 80

Elevated

120 to 129

Less than 80

High Blood Pressure Stage 1

130 to 139

80 to 89

High Blood Pressure Stage 2

140 or higher

90 or higher

Hypertensive Crisis

Higher than 180

Higher than 120

What Do These Numbers Mean?

If your blood pressure reading is within the normal range, then no medical intervention is necessary to control your blood pressure levels. However, you should still maintain healthy lifestyle and dietary habits to avoid hypertension.

If your systolic pressure is higher than 120 mmHg but your diastolic pressure remains lower than 80 mmHg, then you may have an elevated blood pressure level. Even though these numbers aren’t considered high blood pressure yet, you still have a high chance of developing actual hypertension, especially if you don’t keep your health in check with healthy lifestyle and dietary habits.

Your doctor may diagnose you with hypertension if your blood pressure reading consistently falls within the range of stage 1 or stage 2 high blood pressure. At this point, the best way to control your blood pressure levels and reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke is to eat a healthy diet and follow an active lifestyle.8,9 Conventional treatment may also involve medications. Keep in mind, though, that common hypertension medicines may put you at risk of other health issues that can range from chronic fatigue, cough and low potassium10 to serious diseases like cancer.11

If your blood pressure reading reaches the stage of hypertensive crisis, you should seek immediate medical attention. A high reading may occur temporarily, so it’s best to get a second blood pressure reading to verify if you’re really undergoing hypertensive crisis.12

However, if you’re experiencing symptoms of stroke or organ damage, such as chest pain, breathing problems, dizziness, headaches, numbness, visual changes and difficulty speaking, inform your physician right away and don’t wait for your blood pressure reading to go down, since these symptoms call for immediate treatment.13

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