Know Your Numbers
Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers, written as a ratio like this:
Read as "120 over 80 millimeters of mercury"
The top number, which is also the higher of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts).
The bottom number, which is also the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).
This chart reflects blood pressure categories defined by the American Heart Association.
mm Hg (upper #)
mm Hg (lower #)
|Normal||less than 120||and||less than 80|
|Elevated||120 - 129||and||less than 80|
|High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
|130 - 139||or||80 - 89|
|High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
|140 or higher||or||90 or higher|
(Emergency care needed)
|Higher than 180||and/or||Higher than 120|
How do you check your blood pressure?
How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
The American Heart Association recommends a blood pressure screening at your regular healthcare visit or once every 2 years, if your blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. While BP can change from exercise, stress or sleep, it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (less than 120 systolic AND less than 80 diastolic) for an adult age 20 or over.
A single high reading does not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure. However, if readings stay in the Stage 1 Hypertension phase of 130/80 mm Hg or above, your doctor will likely recommend a treatment program of lifestyle changes and often prescription medication.
If, while monitoring your blood pressure, you get systolic readings in the Hypertensive Crisis of 180 mm Hg or higher OR a diastolic reading of 120 mm HG or higher, seek immediate medical treatment.
To learn more about blood pressure numbers and what they mean for your health, visit the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Health Risk Calculator.