Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
We tend not to think about our blood pressure — it’s a normal function of our heart working regularly. However, when blood pressure stays high over an extended period it means the heart is working harder than it should. Since hypertension usually doesn’t have symptoms, we don’t know what is happening unless we measure it. Accurately measuring blood pressure provides a glimpse into what’s happening inside our bodies without needing expensive diagnostic tests.
According to guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), a reading below 120/80 mm Hg is classified as normal blood pressure. Those with a blood pressure reading anywhere from 120/80 up to 129/80 are classified within a category called elevated blood pressure. Hypertension is defined as a reading of 130/80 or higher.

Medicines are available if these changes do not help control your blood pressure within 3 to 6 months. Diuretics help rid your body of water and sodium. ACE inhibitors block the enzyme that raises your blood pressure. Other types of medicines— beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and other vasodilators—work in different ways, but their overall effect is to help relax and widen your blood vessels and reduce the pressure inside the vessel. [See also the free government publication “Medicines to Help You: High Blood Pressure” (PDF) from the US Food and Drug Administration.]

NHLBI Expert Panel on Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents. We have supported the development of guidelines based on up-to-date research to evaluate and manage risk of heart disease in children and adolescents, including high blood pressure. Visit Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents for more information.

Unlike high blood pressure symptoms, which are poorly defined and often totally absent, low blood pressure symptoms tend to be more upfront and easily recognizable. The development of symptoms is often a warning sign of a potentially serious underlying disorder. Generally speaking, your blood pressure would need to fall pretty dramatically before symptoms develop.