What is a normal blood pressure? Blood pressure is essential to life because it forces the blood around the body, delivering all the nutrients it needs. Here, we explain how to take your blood pressure, what the readings mean, and what counts as low, high, and normal. The article also offers some tips on how to maintain healthy blood pressure. Read now
When your heart contracts and squeezes blood out into your network of arteries, the pressure inside those blood vessels is at its highest. This is called systolic pressure and it’s the top number on your blood pressure reading. In between beats, the heart relaxes and the pressure drops. This is your diastolic blood pressure, and it’s the reading’s bottom number.
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.]
However, sometimes a high reading can occur temporarily and then your numbers will return to normal. If your blood pressure measures at this level, your doctor will likely take a second reading after a few minutes have passed. A second high reading indicates that you’ll need treatment either as soon as possible or immediately depending on whether or not you have any of the symptoms described above.
Health issues may happen; however, when a person's blood pressure suddenly drops and their brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply. The condition may lead to lightheadedness or dizziness. A sudden drop in blood pressure usually happens in a person who has risen from a prone or sitting position to a standing one. When this occurs it is referred to as, 'orthostatic hypotension,' or, 'postural hypotension.' Another type of low blood pressure may happen when a person stands for extended periods of time; it is referred to as, 'neurally mediated hypotension.'
Blood pressure (BP) recordings consist of two numbers. The top one is the systolic blood pressure and relates to the contraction of the left side of the heart and the peak pressure achieved when it pumps blood round the body. The bottom number is the diastolic recording and is the lowest pressure achieved in the circulation; this relates to the relaxation of the heart. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), e.g. 120/70 mmHg.
In Europe hypertension occurs in about 30-45% of people as of 2013. In 1995 it was estimated that 43 million people (24% of the population) in the United States had hypertension or were taking antihypertensive medication. By 2004 this had increased to 29% and further to 32% (76 million US adults) by 2017. In 2017, with the change in definitions for hypertension, 46% of people in the United States are affected. African-American adults in the United States have among the highest rates of hypertension in the world at 44%. It is also more common in Filipino Americans and less common in US whites and Mexican Americans. Differences in hypertension rates are multifactorial and under study.
In most cases, the goal of treatment is to bring down the systolic pressure to less than 140 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure to less than 90 mm Hg. For people with diabetes, target blood pressure goals are lower (e.g., less than 130/80 mm Hg). For some people are who at high risk of cardiovascular complications such as stroke or heart attack, your doctor may recommend a systolic pressure target of less than 120 mm Hg. Your doctor will determine the most appropriate goal for you.
Low blood pressure is also known as hypotension. This is usually defined in an adult as a systolic recording of less than 90 mmHg, although it has been suggested that for elderly people, below 110 mmHg is a more appropriate definition. Blood pressure and heart rate are controlled by the autonomic nervous system (the nervous system that controls bodily functions that we do not have to think about).
For older people, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension, which is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most common form of high blood pressure in older people and can lead to serious health problems (stroke, heart disease, eye problems, and kidney failure) in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, lightheadedness upon standing too fast, and falls. Isolated systolic hypertension is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure (130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number) but may require more than one type of blood pressure medication. If your doctor determines that your systolic pressure is above a normal level for your age, ask how you can lower it.
In November, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new guidelines that change how high blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed. Previously, it wasn’t until an adult’s blood pressure reached 140 mmHg or higher systolic (the top, or first, number) or 90 mmHg diastolic (the bottom, or second, number) or higher that high blood pressure was diagnosed. According to the new parameters, high blood pressure should be treated at 130/80 rather than 140/90, as that is the point when our risk for heart attack, stroke, and other consequences for hypertension almost doubles.
About This Image: Chart showing potential causes of low blood pressure The risk of low and high blood pressure commonly increases as a person ages due in part to changes during the aging process. The flow of blood to a person's heart muscle and brain declines as a person ages, many times as a result of plaque buildup in their blood vessels. Approximately 10-20% of people over the age of 65 experience postural hypotension. While the causes of low blood pressure may not always be clear, it might be associated with things such as:
There are even more medication types that can lower blood pressure. Some of these are alpha blockers, vasodilators, and central alpha agonists. Your doctor may prescribe these medications if other medications have been ineffective or if you have another condition along with hypertension. Side effects can include fast pulse, palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea, or headaches.
You will work with your provider to come up with a treatment plan. It may include only the lifestyle changes. These changes, such as heart-healthy eating and exercise, can be very effective. But sometimes the changes do not control or lower your high blood pressure. Then you may need to take medicine. There are different types of blood pressure medicines. Some people need to take more than one type.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
There was a time when the high blood pressure medication list was very short indeed. In the 1950s, reserpine was one of the few products on the market to treat hypertension. It is rarely used due to its numerous side effects and drug interactions. The peripheral adrenergic inhibitors work in the brain to block signals that tell blood vessels to constrict. They are mostly used when other high blood pressure medications fail to solve the problem. Guanadrel (Hylorel), guanethidine monosulfate (Ismelin), and reserpine (Serpasil) are peripheral adrenergic inhibitors.
^ Jump up to: a b Semlitsch, T; Jeitler, K; Berghold, A; Horvath, K; Posch, N; Poggenburg, S; Siebenhofer, A (2 March 2016). "Long-term effects of weight-reducing diets in people with hypertension". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 3: CD008274. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008274.pub3. PMID 26934541. Archived from the original on 23 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
The best evidence indicates that high blood pressure does not cause headaches or nosebleeds, except in the case of hypertensive crisis, a medical emergency when blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher. If your blood pressure is unusually high AND you have headache or nosebleed and are feeling unwell, wait five minutes and retest. If your reading remains at 180/120 mm Hg or higher, call 9-1-1.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which the force of blood against artery walls is too strong. It is common ailment, and it is common for many Veterans to hear about hypertension at their health care appointments. Over time, without treatment, high blood pressure can damage the arteries, heart, and kidneys and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Your doctor may suggest that you check your blood pressure at home. The easiest way to do this is to use a digital blood pressure monitor. You can get a monitor from your local drug store, hospital, clinic or online. Your doctor can help you find a monitor that is right for you and show you how to use it. Many pharmacies and grocery stores also have in-store monitors that you can use for free.
The findings mean that an additional 14 percent of U.S. adults, or about 30 million people, will now be diagnosed as having high blood pressure, compared with the number diagnosed before the new guidelines. This will bring the total percentage of U.S. adults with high blood pressure to 46 percent, up from 32 percent previously. [9 New Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy]
The NHLBI is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the Nation’s biomedical research agency that makes important scientific discovery to improve health and save lives. We are committed to advancing science and translating discoveries into clinical practice to promote the prevention and treatment of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders, including high blood pressure. Learn about the current and future NHLBI efforts to improve health through research and scientific discovery.
Excellent point! I can’t speak for anyone specifically, but I can say that generally, doctors make the worst patients. We don’t always follow the textbook guidelines nor abide by health recommendations. Then, there’s genetics, a pretty powerful force, and one over which we have little control. And, of course, there is just plain bad luck (or fate, finger of God, however you choose to describe it). So, many factors can come into play when a doctor gets diagnosed with what can otherwise be considered a preventable disease.
Hypertension occurs in around 0.2 to 3% of newborns; however, blood pressure is not measured routinely in healthy newborns. Hypertension is more common in high risk newborns. A variety of factors, such as gestational age, postconceptional age and birth weight needs to be taken into account when deciding if a blood pressure is normal in a newborn.
James, P.A., Oparil, S., Carter, B.L., Cushman, W.C., Dennison-Himmelfarb, C., Handler, J., & Ortiz, E. (2013, December 18). 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: Report from the panel members appointed to the eighth joint national committee. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
During relaxation of the heart (diastole), the left ventricle of the heart fills with blood returning from the lungs. The left ventricle then contracts and pumps blood into the arteries (systole). The blood pressure in the arteries during contraction of the ventricle (systolic pressure) is higher because blood is being actively ejected into the arteries. It is lower during relaxation of the ventricle (diastolic pressure) when no blood is being ejected into the arteries. The pulse we feel when we place our fingers over an artery is caused by the contraction of the left ventricle and the ejection of blood.
About This Image: Person receiving a blood pressure test. Medical research shows that as we age blood pressure rises slightly to accommodate an increased demand of oxygen and nutrients. It is completely natural for the first number (systolic) to be 100 plus our age. A recent study by a group of UCLA researchers came very close to corroborating Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure of 100 plus your age for men, subtracting 10 for women, and this is after this rule had been in use for five or more decades. Are we now being taught that Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure is wrong merely for drug company profit?
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.
Blood tests may be done to assess risk factors for heart disease and stroke as well as looking for complications of hypertension. These include complete blood count (CBC), electrolytes, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), and creatinine and GFR (glomerular filtration rate) to measure kidney function. A fasting lipid profile will measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. If appropriate, blood tests may be considered to look for an underlying cause of high blood pressure (secondary hypertension)including abnormal thyroid or adrenal gland function.
tilt table test – usually recommended if your doctor suspects you might have orthostatic hypotension or NMH (During this diagnostic test, a person lies on a table and then the table is tilted to raise the upper part of their body. This simulates the change in position from sitting or lying down to standing up. People with orthostatic hypotension or NMH may feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even faint when their position changes.)
High blood pressure is a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels, or arteries, at higher than normal pressures. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, is when this force against the artery walls is too high. Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure if you have consistently high blood pressure readings.