Some people have low blood pressure all the time. They have no symptoms and their low readings are normal for them. In other people, blood pressure drops below normal because of a medical condition or certain medicines. Some people may have symptoms of low blood pressure when standing up too quickly. Low blood pressure is a problem only if it causes dizziness, fainting or in extreme cases, shock.
If your blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower, it’s considered normal. Generally, if the blood pressure reading is under 90/60 mm Hg, it is abnormally low and is referred to as hypotension. Some adults regularly have a blood pressure in the hypotensive range, but have no symptoms at all and do not require treatment. In serious cases, though, hypotension can result in a decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain, which can eventually lead to life-threatening shock.
Elevated blood pressures in the medical setting may not necessarily reflect the individuals real status. "White coat hypertension" describes a patient whose blood pressure is elevated because of the stress of the visit to the doctor or other healthcare professional, and the worry that their blood pressure might be elevated. Repeated blood pressure checks at the doctor's office or the use of a home blood pressure monitoring device may be used to confirm that you have high blood pressure.
There are a number of factors that likely work together to cause high blood pressure. A family history of high blood pressure can make you more likely to develop the condition, so genetics likely plays a role. High salt intake (too much salt in the diet) or salt sensitivity occurs in some people, which can lead to hypertension, particularly in the elderly, African Americans, people who are obese, or people with chronic kidney (renal) disease.
Weakened heart muscle can cause the heart to fail and reduce the amount of blood it pumps. One common cause of weakened heart muscle is the death of a large portion of the heart's muscle due to a single, large heart attack or repeated smaller heart attacks. Other examples of conditions that can weaken the ability of the heart to pump blood include medications toxic to the heart, infections of the muscle of the heart by viruses (myocarditis), and diseases of the heart's valves such as aortic stenosis that reduce the flow of blood from the heart and into the arteries.
The guidelines also outline very clearly when a diet-and-lifestyle approach is the recommended, first-line treatment, and when medications are simply just what you have to do. Thankfully, the decision is largely based on facts and statistics. For the elevated blood pressure category, medications are actually not recommended; rather, a long list of evidence-based, non-drug interventions are. What are these interventions? Things that really work: a diet high in fruits and vegetables (such as the DASH diet, which is naturally high in potassium); decreased salt and bad fats; more activity; weight loss if one is overweight or obese; and no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men, and one for women. Simply changing what you eat can bring down systolic blood pressure by as much as 11 points, and each additional healthy habit you adopt can bring it down another four to five points.
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.
Dietary changes can help control blood pressure. One diet designed to promote lower blood pressure is known as the DASH diet. This stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet recommends eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, nuts, and fish. Red meat, saturated fats, and sweets should be avoided. The DASH diet can lower blood pressure within 2 weeks. It can also help to reduce your intake of sodium. The following is the DASH diet suggested daily intake:
Calcium channel blockers are drugs that reduce the movement of calcium into cells of the heart and vessels. This reduces the strength of heart contractions and relaxes the arteries, allowing them to remain more open, lowering blood pressure. Side effects of calcium channel blockers can include heart palpitations, dizziness, swollen ankles, and constipation. Calcium channel blockers can be taken alone or with other blood pressure medications. They should be taken with food or milk. Because of potential interactions, those taking calcium channel blockers should avoid alcohol and grapefruit juice.
Our free blood pressure chart and blood pressure log allow you to track your blood pressure, aiding you in being aware of and gaining control over your blood pressure and health. Since normal blood pressure levels can change with age, weight, height and many other factors, you should consult your doctor or caregiver to determine your appropriate target blood pressure, which can be entered into the blood pressure log. The blood pressure charts below are a quick reference for low, normal and high blood pressures.
Quitting smoking. Visit Smoking and Your Heart and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Your Guide to a Healthy Heart [PDF – 2MB]. Although these resources focus on heart health, they include basic information about how to quit smoking. For free help and support to quit smoking, you can call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).
"Having a healthy lifestyle really makes a difference in your life because you can avoid high blood pressure," said Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, an internist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. "If you do have high blood pressure, make sure take your medication. You may not necessarily have symptoms until your blood pressure gets really high."
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"Blood pressure guidelines are not updated at regular intervals. Instead, they are changed when sufficient new evidence suggests the old ones weren't accurate or relevant anymore," says Dr. Paul Conlin, an endocrinologist with Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "The goal now with the new guidelines is to help people address high blood pressure — and the problems that may accompany it like heart attack and stroke — much earlier." 

Postural hypotension is considered to be a failure of a person's cardiovascular system or nervous system to react appropriately to sudden changes. Usually, when a person stands up, some of their blood pools in their lower extremities. If this remains uncorrected, it would cause the person's blood pressure to fall or decrease. A person's body usually compensates by sending messages to their heart to beat faster and to their blood vessels to constrict, offsetting the drop in blood pressure. If this does not happen, or does not happen quickly enough, postural hypotension is the result.
High blood pressure is the #2 cause of kidney failure. It accounts for about one-fourth of all cases. High blood pressure can be both a cause of kidney disease and a symptom of kidney disease. When high blood pressure damages your kidneys, they are not able to do all their jobs as well—and one of their jobs is helping your body regulate your blood pressure.
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.
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.
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.
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. 

The kidney can respond to changes in blood pressure by increasing or decreasing the amount of urine that is produced. Urine is primarily water that is removed from the blood. When the kidney makes more urine, the amount (volume) of blood that fills the arteries and veins decreases, and this lowers blood pressure. If the kidneys make less urine, the amount of blood that fills the arteries and veins increases and this increases blood pressure. Compared with the other mechanisms for adjusting blood pressure, changes in the production of urine affect blood pressure slowly over hours and days. (The other mechanisms are effective in seconds.)


MRI (or magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a radiology technique which uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. MRI scanning is painless and does not involve X-ray radiation. Patients with heart pacemakers, metal implants, or metal chips or clips in or around the eyes cannot be scanned with MRI because of the effect of the magnet.
Some high blood pressure medications initially cause drowsiness, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Some even cause fainting on the first dose. The body usually adjusts to the effects of these medications and the side effects disappear. Consuming alcohol during the early phase of antihypertensive treatment could be risky because alcohol can also cause dizziness, drowsiness, and lightheadedness. 

Mountains of research over time have shown a very clear link between high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. A 20-point higher systolic blood pressure or a 10-point higher diastolic blood pressure is associated with double your risk of death from a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular complication (like abdominal aortic aneurysm or heart failure). What many people don’t realize is that those who survive these events find their lives permanently altered by disability and medical complications.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, however most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Shortness of breath may occur, as well as nausea, or lightheadedness. It is vital to get help immediately if any of these symptoms occur.
Being overweight increases the risk of getting hypertension and increases the workload required of your heart. Diets designed to control blood pressure are often designed to reduce calories as well. Most of these diets require decreasing consumption of fatty foods and sugars while increasing your intake of lean protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables. A weight loss of just 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your blood pressure.
One reason to visit your doctor regularly is to have your blood pressure checked. Routine checks of your blood pressure will help pick up an early rise in blood pressure, even though you might feel fine. If there's an indication that your blood pressure is high at two or more checkups, the doctor may ask you to check your blood pressure at home at different times of the day. If the pressure stays high, even when you are relaxed, the doctor may suggest exercise, changes in your diet, and, most likely, medications.
Blood pressure control is a lifelong challenge. Hypertension can progress through the years, and treatments that worked earlier in life may need to be adjusted over time. Blood pressure control may involve gradually making lifestyle changes like diet, weight loss, exercise, and possibly taking medicine if necessary. In some situations, medications may be recommended immediately. As with many diseases, you and your doctor should work together to find the treatment plan that works for you.
Because of the need for emergency care, it is important to recognize the early signs of malignant hypertension. The first giveaway is blood pressure of 180/120. You might have bleeding in the eyes due to rupture of the small blood vessels. Other malignant hypertension symptoms can include chest pain, dizziness, a headache, numbness in your extremities, and confusion.
If your blood pressure is always on the low side and you do not have any of the above symptoms, there is usually no cause for concern. Similarly, if you have a single at-home blood pressure reading that is abnormally low without any symptoms, you probably do not need to see your doctor. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall over time, and your body is usually able to get your blood pressure back to normal.

^ Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Dec 2011). "Expert panel on integrated guidelines for cardiovascular health and risk reduction in children and adolescents: summary report". Pediatrics. 128 Suppl 5: S213–56. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2107C. PMC 4536582. PMID 22084329.
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