Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries and other blood vessels.

What does blood pressure do?

Blood pressure circulates the blood throughout the body. Without circulating blood, your organs won’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to work.


How is it measured?

Blood pressure is measured with a simple, painless test using a blood pressure cuff called a sphygmomanometer and a small pressure gauge that is attached to the cuff.

The inflatable cuff is wrapped around the upper arm. When taking blood pressure, a stethoscope is used to listen to the blood moving through an artery.

When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of your body. This is called systolic blood pressure.

When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls.  This is called diastolic blood pressure.

The systolic blood pressure number is always said first, and the diastolic blood pressure number is second. For example, your blood pressure may be read as “120 over 80” or written 120/80.

Photo What do the numbers mean?

The blood pressure measurement will be classified at:

  • Normal
    • Less than 120 and Less than 80
    • Blood pressure at this level presents the lowest risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and other health problems related to high blood pressure.
  • Prehypertension
    • 120-139 or 80-89
    • Blood pressure at this level  means you’re likely to end up with hypertension unless you take steps to improve it such as lifestyle changes.
  • Hypertension
    • 140 or higher or 90 or higher
    • This is high blood pressure and requires follow-up with a health care provider.

    High Blood Pressure Risk Factors

    Certain traits, health conditions, and behaviors increase your chance of getting high blood pressure. These are called risk factors. Some risk factors you can control or change, others you can’t.

    • Risk Factors That Can be Controlled or Changed
      • Being obese
      • Smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco
      • Not exercising enough
      • Drinking too much alcohol
      • Eating too much salt
    • Risk Factors That Can Not be Controlled or Changed
      • Age
      • Race/ethnicity
      • Family history

    Prevent or Control High Blood Pressure

    You can take steps to prevent or control high blood pressure. It's important to choose healthy behaviors and follow the treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider.

    Some steps may include:

    • Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight
      • Aim to lose weight, if overweight
    • Eat fruits and vegetables
      • Aim for at least 5 servings every day
    • Stop smoking or using tobacco
      • Aim to quit
    • Get enough exercise
      • Aim for 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week
    • Avoid drinking too much alcohol
      • Men aim for 2 or fewer drinks a day
      • Women aim for 1 or fewer drinks a day
    • Eat less salt
      • Aim for: less than 2,400 mg a day (1 teaspoon)
    • Medications
      • Aim to take medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider


Updated Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 11:56AM