Blood pressure is the amount of force your blood uses to get through your arteries. When your heart pumps, it uses force to push oxygen-rich blood out to your arteries. They bring it to your body’s cells and tissues. If your blood pressure is too high, it can cause health issues. The only way to know your blood pressure is to measure it.
Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure or force of blood inside your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into arteries that carry blood throughout your body. This happens 60 to 100 times a minute, 24 hours a day. Arteries deliver oxygen and nutrients to your whole body so it can function.
Both of these have to do with your heart, but they’re two different things. Blood pressure is how powerfully your blood travels through your blood vessels. Heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute.
An increase in heart rate doesn’t mean your blood pressure is going up, too. The only way to know your blood pressure is to measure it with a blood pressure cuff and gauge.
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Your blood pressure doesn’t stay the same at all times. It changes based on what you’re doing. When you’re exercising or excited, your blood pressure goes up. When you’re resting, your blood pressure is lower.
Your blood pressure can also change because of your:
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Without treatment, high blood pressure can cause:
Your risk of high blood pressure is higher if you:
Your healthcare provider should check your blood pressure at every annual checkup if your blood pressure is normal. If your blood pressure readings are high at your appointments, your provider may ask you to check your blood pressure at home anywhere from several times a day to once a week.
You should take blood pressure readings at the same time of day each time. You can take two or three readings one after the other, as long as you wait one minute before the next one. When you’re done, figure out the average of the two or three readings you took.
Your provider may ask you to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours. The monitor is usually set to take blood pressure every 15 to 30 minutes while you do your normal activities.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Without treatment, you can have a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, heart attack, enlarged heart, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease (such as poor circulation and pain in your legs), aneurysms, kidney disease, and broken blood vessels in your eyes. Treatment includes making changes recommended by your healthcare provider.
Diet and lifestyle changes:
Medications and follow-up care:
Your doctor may ask you to record your blood pressure at home. Follow your doctor’s instructions for recording your blood pressure.
To measure your blood pressure manually, your provider will:
You or your provider can use a blood pressure monitor to check your blood pressure automatically.
If you’re nervous when you go to your appointment, you could have a false high blood pressure reading. This is called “white coat syndrome.” If this happens, your healthcare provider may ask you to use a blood pressure monitor to check your blood pressure throughout the day. You can bring a record of your blood pressure readings to your appointments.
The cuff around your arm gets very tight when it’s inflated for a blood pressure measurement. However, it’s only tight for a short time before it gets comfortable again.
Your blood pressure reading has two measurements:
Providers give the measurements as millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). They started using these measurements when instruments to measure blood pressure contained mercury.
Normal blood pressure is <120/<80 millimeters of mercury.
Elevated blood pressure is 120-129/<80 millimeters of mercury. People with blood pressure readings in this category can develop worse blood pressure if they don’t do something to improve it.
If your top number is ever 180 or higher and/or your bottom number is ever 120 or higher, get emergency medical treatment or have someone take you to the hospital right away. This is a hypertensive crisis.
During a hypertensive crisis, you may experience:
Higher blood pressure ranges mean you may have stage 1 or 2 hypertension (high blood pressure).
When your blood pressure readings are in stage 1 or stage 2, your provider will ask you to make lifestyle changes and take blood pressure medicine.
A reading below 90/60 millimeters of mercury is a low blood pressure reading. This can be a normal reading for some people who always have low blood pressure. For other people, low blood pressure means something’s wrong. They may not have enough blood flowing to their major organs.
Your healthcare provider can use the top or bottom number to diagnose you with high blood pressure. However, they usually focus more on the top number as a risk factor for heart disease if you’re older than 50.
As you get older, the top blood pressure number rises because your arteries get stiff and collect plaque (fat and cholesterol) over time.
You’ll know your blood pressure reading right away, but your provider needs two or more readings (on different days) to determine if you have high blood pressure. They may make another appointment to check your blood pressure again on another day.
Contact your healthcare provider if your blood pressure reading at home is lower or higher than normal. Call 911 if your reading is 180/120 millimeters of mercury or even if only one of those numbers is that high.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Even though you may not feel any symptoms, your blood pressure could be high. It’s important to check your blood pressure regularly so you know if you’re in the normal range. If you have high blood pressure, keep taking the medications your provider prescribed. Don’t stop or start taking them without talking to your provider. Blood pressure medication doesn’t keep working after you stop taking it. Keep all follow-up appointments so your provider can monitor your blood pressure, make any needed changes to your medications and help manage your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/01/2022.
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