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Diseases & Conditions

Your Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure?

With each beat of the heart, blood is pumped out of the heart and into the blood vessels (arteries), which carry blood throughout your body. Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure or force inside your blood vessels (arteries) with each beat of the heart.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means the pressure in your arteries is above the normal range.

How is blood pressure recorded?

Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury, the unit of measure for blood pressure). The first number is the systolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and fills the arteries with blood. The second number is the diastolic pressure. Diastolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

What is a normal blood pressure reading?

Type of blood pressure reading Ideal blood pressure High blood pressure
(Note: Pre-hypertension=130/85; all chart numbers in mm Hg)
Systolic 115 Over 140
Diastolic 75 Over 90
Acceptable blood pressure for people with systolic heart failure
Systolic greater than 80 and less than 100
Diastolic less than 70

Who is more likely to have high blood pressure?

  • People with family members who have high blood pressure or a history of heart disease or diabetes
  • African-Americans
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who take birth control pills
  • People over age 60
  • People who are overweight
  • People who are not active
  • People who drink a lot of alcohol
  • People who eat too many fatty foods or foods with too much salt
  • People who smoke

What can happen if high blood pressure is not treated?

  • Stroke
  • Enlarged heart
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Hemorrhages in the eye blood vessels
  • Peripheral vascular disease: lack of blood circulation in the legs, cramp-like pain in the calves (claudication), or aneurysm (abnormal enlargement or bulging of an artery caused by damage to or weakness in the blood vessel wall)

What to do if you have high blood pressure.

The goal of therapy, if you have high blood pressure, is to lower your blood pressure to less than 140/90 mm Hg. If you have high blood pressure:

  • Eat healthy foods that are low in salt and fat.
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink each day.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Take high blood pressure medicine if your doctor or nurse prescribes it and follow the doctor’s or nurse’s directions carefully. Do not abruptly stop your blood pressure medications, even if your blood pressure numbers are better, as this can cause serious harm to your body.
  • Have regular blood pressure checks and check your own blood pressure at home as recommended by your doctor or nurse.

When should I check my blood pressure?

Follow your doctor’s or nurse’s instructions for when and how often to check your blood pressure. Keep in mind that certain factors can cause blood pressure to temporarily rise. Blood pressure normally rises as a result of:

  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Cold temperatures
  • Full stomach
  • Full bladder
  • Some medicines
  • Caffeine
  • Exercise

Avoid any of these factors you can when taking your blood pressure. Also try measuring your blood pressure at about the same time each day.

Before taking your blood pressure:

  1. Roll up the sleeve on your left arm or remove any tight-sleeved clothing, if needed. (It’s best to take your blood pressure from your left arm, if possible.)
  2. Rest in a chair next to a table for 5 to 10 minutes. (Your left arm should rest comfortably at heart level.)
  3. Sit up straight with your back against the chair, legs uncrossed.
  4. Rest your forearm on the table with the palm of your hand facing up.
  5. Follow the directions on your cuff provided by the manufacturer.

It is a good idea to bring your automatic cuff to one of your appointments to see how it matches up with your doctor’s or nurse’s reading.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 9/1/2010...#8131