What is Normal Blood Pressure?

Published March 28th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera
Updated Date: Jul 4th, 2021

According to the American Heart Association, nearly one in two American adults, or about 103 million people, suffer from high blood pressure. This “silent killer” has been implicated in a number of serious conditions, including heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure comes with a lot of risk factors and is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease-related deaths in the United States such as heart attacks, and a 38 percent increase in high blood pressure-related deaths occurred between 2005 and 2015. Maybe you want to get your high blood pressure back to normal, but you’re not even sure what normal blood pressure even is, much less how to get there. Measuring blood pressure can be a bit confusing at first before you understand where the readings come from.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the natural force at which your blood pushes against the walls of the blood vessels on the way to deliver oxygen to your tissues and organs. The heart is responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to various areas throughout the body in order to keep our bodies functioning normally and keep us alive. The main function of the heart is to pump blood throughout our bodies, and your blood pressure reading measures the force at which this occurs.

How is blood pressure measured?

When blood pressure is measured, it actually includes two different measurements: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the force at which blood hits the walls of the blood vessels when it is actively being pumped out of the heart and into the arteries. Systolic pressure can be considered “active” and it will appear as the top number listed in your blood pressure reading. The bottom number on your blood pressure reading measures diastolic pressure. This “resting” pressure is the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.

There are five different categories for blood pressure. Blood pressure readings are written by placing the systolic blood pressure, or “active,” number on top and the diastolic, or “resting,” number on the bottom. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. 

  • Low blood pressure: Less than 90 over less than 60 (Less than 90/less than 60)
  • Normal: 90 - 120 over 60 - 80 (90-120/60-80)
  • Elevated: 120 - 129 over less than 80 (120-129/less than 80)
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 130-139 over 80 - 89 (130-139/80-89)
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 140 and above over 90 and above (140 and above/90 and above)
  • Hypertension crisis: higher than 180 over higher than 120 (higher than 180/higher than 120). In cases of a hypertension crisis, seek medical attention right away.

What is low blood pressure?

Low blood pressure, also known as hypotension, is a medical condition characterized by a consistently lower than normal flow of blood to the tissues, organs, and extremities. Low blood pressure readings would see a systolic pressure of less than 90 and a diastolic pressure of less than 60 on a consistent basis. Low blood pressure is generally not a cause for concern in people who are otherwise healthy and experience no symptoms. After all the talk about how dangerous high blood pressure is, having low blood pressure might even seem ideal.  However, low blood pressure can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical problem, especially in people over the age of 65. Without an adequate blood supply,  dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting can occur. 

What is normal blood pressure?

Having normal blood pressure - neither too low nor too high - is considered ideal. Normal blood pressure is characterized by a systolic reading between 90 and 120 and a diastolic reading of 60 to 80. To keep your blood pressure at a normal level, you should continue to maintain a healthy weight, get plenty of exercise, and stay away from smoking. Even if your blood pressure is normal now, you should be aware of any family history of high blood pressure and continue to monitor your blood pressure as you age, as having high blood pressure grows more likely over time.

What is elevated blood pressure?

Elevated blood pressure is defined as having a systolic reading that is between 120 and 129 and a diastolic pressure reading that is less than 80. While elevated blood pressure isn’t an immediate concern - yet - it’s the first warning sign that you may experience high blood pressure in the future. You won’t need to take any medication to control elevated blood pressure, and it can usually be managed by making lifestyle changes like adding more activity into your schedule and eating a balanced diet. 

What is Stage 1 high blood pressure?

An official diagnosis of high blood pressure begins with Stage 1 high blood pressure. People with Stage 1 hypertension will report a systolic reading between 130 and 139 and a diastolic heart beat reading between 80 and 89. While one reading at this level may not be cause for alarm, consistent readings at a Stage 1 level indicate that you have high blood pressure. You should spend one month trying to lower your blood pressure by making changes to your lifestyle (more on that below). If you do not see an improvement to your blood pressure within one month and you’re at high risk for heart disease, your doctor may consider adding a blood pressure medication to your routine. Patients who are at a lower risk for heart disease may be given three to six months to improve their blood pressure through lifestyle changes before taking medication

What is Stage 2 high blood pressure?

Stage 2 hypertension is a serious condition that requires more significant intervention. Stage 2 high blood pressure is defined by a systolic pressure reading of more than 140 and a diastolic reading of more than 90. Individuals with Stage 2 hypertension will need to make immediate and substantial changes to their lifestyle to reduce their blood pressure, and they are likely to be prescribed medication to treat their blood pressure. While medication is an important tool for fighting substantially high blood pressure, it should not be solely relied upon to treat the condition. Lifestyle changes are of equal importance. Left untreated, Stage 2 high blood pressure can result in heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems

What is a hypertension crisis?

A hypertension crisis occurs when a blood pressure reading of over 180 is taken for systolic pressure and over 120 is taken for diastolic pressure. Regardless of whether or not symptoms are present, blood pressure in this range is a serious emergency and requires immediate treatment. If you receive a blood pressure reading in this range, wait several minutes and then take your blood pressure again to ensure that the reading is not in error. Accompanying symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Visual changes
  • Symptoms of stroke
  • Paralysis
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Blood in the urine
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

How can I keep my blood pressure at a healthy level?

Due to the large number of lifestyle factors that play a role in high blood pressure, there are many steps you can take to lower your risk with a few simple lifestyle changes. Start by incorporating one or more of these changes into your daily routine:

  • Exercise regularly: Aim to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days per week.
  • Shed extra weight: People who are overweight or obese should lose excess weight. Losing just five to ten pounds can lead to a noticeable drop in your blood pressure.
  • Reduce carbs and sugar intake: Low carb diets have been shown to reduce blood pressure in addition to helping people manage their weight.
  • Limit sodium:  Reducing salt intake is one of the most important steps for people with high blood pressure. Cut out added sodium from your diet by removing processed foods and adding salt to your meal after cooking. 
  • Eat whole foods: Eating whole foods like lean meats, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit will help you manage weight and keep added sodium out of your diet. 
  • Stop smoking: Nicotine is a stimulant that immediately increases your blood pressure and heart rate. Quitting smoking will help lower your blood pressure. 
  • Learn to manage stress: In an ideal world, you’ll want to eliminate as much stress as possible. If you can’t cut back on professional and domestic obligations try practicing deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation or add in a little yoga. 
  • Eat dark chocolate: Lowering your blood pressure isn’t all miserable. Eating one to two squares of 60 to 70 percent cacao dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and inflammation, but make sure to enjoy it in moderation. 
  • Prioritize sleep: Studies have shown that sleep deprived people have a higher risk of high blood pressure, so it’s imperative that you get your eight hours. 
  • Drink less alcohol:  Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum (one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men), as it’s been shown to raise blood pressure even in healthy people.
  • Cut your caffeine intake: Caffeine is a stimulant that immediately and temporarily increases your blood pressure. Cut it out if you have high blood pressure. 
  • Take medication if needed: If you already live a healthy lifestyle but still have high blood pressure, or if your blood pressure is very high, you may need to take a prescription medication to lower your blood pressure.

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