Blood pressure

When you hear about blood pressure, you may automatically think about high blood pressure. That’s because high blood pressure is a condition that can cause many health problems, including heart attacks and strokes. Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent high blood pressure. First, it may help to understand what’s a normal blood pressure — and what to watch out for when your blood pressure is higher than normal. It’s even more important to go to the doctor and get your blood pressure checked regularly. Early detection can make all the difference in managing your blood pressure over time and prevent damage to the circulation and organs in your body. Let’s learn more about blood pressure, how it works and how to stay on top of it.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure levels may fluctuate in response to the needs of your body and to internal and external factors. The blood pressure is measured using two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure (the top number): Measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps the blood out into the circulation.
  • Diastolic pressure (the bottom number): Measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

What is normal blood pressure?

Typically, a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or less — read as “120 over 80.” There are several blood pressure categories, ranging from normal to hypertensive crisis. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your personal health numbers.

What is high blood pressure?

If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), that means your blood is pumping against your arteries at a high enough force to cause damage. That means your systolic and diastolic numbers are elevated higher than 120 over 80.

What causes high blood pressure?

There are two types of high blood pressure — primary and secondary — and their causes are different.

What are some tips to help prevent and control high blood pressure?

It’s a good idea to form heart-healthy habits to help protect yourself against high blood pressure. Consider these lifestyle habits to help prevent and control high blood pressure. 

In many cases, losing weight, exercising, relieving stress, and avoiding excessive salt intake is enough to control your blood pressure without the need for medications.  If you are already taking medications for blood pressure, do not stop medications unless advised by your doctor

When to see your doctor about high blood pressure

If you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your blood pressure. They can check for risk factors and offer ways to keep your blood pressure at a normal level. They may also recommend lifestyle changes or medication, in addition to healthy lifestyle habits. Be sure to talk through any possible side effects of the medications and decide if you’re comfortable taking it.

Tips to prepare for a doctor visit

You usually get your blood pressure checked at every doctor visit, so it’s a good idea to:

  • Avoid drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes for 30 minutes before the test.
  • Take a bathroom break before. Having a full bladder can change your blood pressure reading.
  • Sit for 5 minutes before the test. Movement can cause a short-term rise in blood pressure.

Questions to ask your doctor about blood pressure monitoring at home

  • What is my target blood pressure?
  • How often and at what time of day should I check my blood pressure?
  • Are there blood pressure numbers I should tell you about right away?
  • What lifestyle changes would you recommend for me?
  • Is there a type of blood pressure monitor you recommend? Should I bring it to my doctor visits to check for accuracy?

Footnotes

  1. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes cdc.gov, 2021.
  2. Causes of High Blood Pressure webmd.com, 2019.
  3. High blood pressure (hypertension) mayoclinic.org, 2021.