Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels as it moves from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. But if it stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart, your brain and your blood vessels, which can lead to health problems. The condition of high blood pressure is called hypertension.
How Do I Know If I Have High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure usually has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it. Your doctor or healthcare team will use a monitor to measure your blood pressure during visits and will tell you if you have high blood pressure. If you do, then you can take steps to manage it. If you do not have high blood pressure, you can take steps to prevent it. Knowing how to lower your blood pressure is a good way to become an expert in your own heart health.
What Should My Blood Pressure Be?
Your blood pressure is measured by two numbers:
- Top number (systolic) — the pressure when the heart beats.
- Bottom number (diastolic) — the pressure in between heart beats.
The blood pressure is measured in units called millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). As an example, a blood pressure number would be written 118/78 mm Hg.
Your blood pressure goals for these numbers depend on your personal health situation. Talk to your doctor or healthcare team about what your blood pressure goals should be.
Blood Pressure Categories
Blood pressure categories were recently changed. This change means that people are encouraged to make lifestyle changes and/or take medications to treat high blood pressure at lower blood pressure numbers than in the past.
|Systolic mm Hg
|Diastolic mm Hg
|Less than 120
|Less than 80
|120 - 129
|Less than 80
|Hypertension Stage 1
|130 - 139
|Hypertension Stage 2
|140 or higher
|90 or higher
(call your healthcare provider immediately)
|Higher than 180
|Higher than 120
How to Lower Blood Pressure
There are ways to lower your blood pressure, including through lifestyle changes or with medication. Discuss a plan with your doctor and healthcare team to take charge of your heart health. With changes and monitoring, you may be able to lower your blood pressure to healthy levels.
No matter what your blood pressure numbers, you have the power to lower your blood pressure with lifestyle changes including:
- Stopping the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
- Eating fewer processed foods, eating more vegetables and fruits and using less salt.
- Moving your body more often.
- Losing weight.
- Drinking less alcohol.
Some people may also need medication to lower their blood pressure. It’s always important to keep taking the medication as instructed, unless your doctor or healthcare team tells you otherwise.
- Since high blood pressure often has no symptoms, it’s important to take your medication even when you are feeling fine.
- Working with their doctor or healthcare team, some people are able to reduce or completely stop their medication after they’ve made lifestyle changes that lower their blood pressure.
- Sometimes there is a specific underlying cause of high blood pressure. If that is the case, there may be other treatments for you to consider.
Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home
- Checking your blood pressure at home can help you see how changes to lifestyle and medication affect your blood pressure levels.
- Sharing your home blood pressure numbers with your doctor or healthcare team will help them know if your treatment is working and if you need to make any changes.
- Be sure to follow the instructions from your doctor, healthcare team and/or the American Heart Association to get accurate numbers.
Know When to Call for Help
People with high blood pressure are a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. It’s important to know the symptoms.
Think You Are Having a Stroke? Call 911!
F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call 911 for help right away.
- F: Face Drooping — Does one side of the face droop? Is it numb? Try to smile. Is the smile uneven?
- A: Arm Weakness — Is one arm weak or numb? Try to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S: Speech Difficulty — Is speech slurred? Are you unable to speak? Are you hard to understand? Repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- T: Time to call 911 — If you show any of these symptoms, call 911 and get to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.
Think You Are Having a Heart Attack? Call 911!
Do you have chest pressure or pain, jaw discomfort, arm or hand numbness or tingling, shortness of breath or nausea that does not go away within five to 10 minutes of rest. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call 911 for help right away.
- American Heart Association
- Are You At Risk for High Blood Pressure?
- Ask an Expert
- Blood Pressure Log (PDF)
- Effects of High Blood Pressure
- Fight Disease with Whole-Food, Plant-Based Eating (PDF)
- Heart Health
- High Blood Pressure
- High Blood Pressure Guide (PDF)
- Lifestyle Changes to Lower Blood Pressure