Do you have a blood pressure reading and are unsure about what it means? Do you actually have high blood pressure? What blood pressure ranges do you fall under?
The blood pressure chart in this article and its accompanying guidelines will help you determine exactly what your reading means and whether you should take action to avoid health problems in the future. We'll tell you what the major blood pressure ranges are, and how to lower your high blood pressure.
Feature image: Blood Pressure Monitor, used under CC 2.0
First, let's cover the basics before showing your blood pressure chart. This will help you understand how to get the most out of your reading.
What Is Blood Pressure, and Why Is It Important?
Blood pressure corresponds to the force your blood exerts against your arteries at different stages in the heartbeat. It consists of two numbers in a ratio. The top number is called the systolic pressure, and the bottom number is called the diastolic pressure. For example, you'll often hear about 120/80 being a good blood pressure - 120 is the systolic pressure, and 80 is the diastolic.
The systolic pressure is a measurement of the pressure of blood in the arteries when your heart muscle contracts.
The diastolic pressure is a measurement of the pressure of blood in the arteries between heartbeats (when your heart is resting and refilling with blood). Both pressures are measured in millimeters of Mercury (mm Hg).
Doctors typically pay more attention to the systolic pressure because high systolic pressure is an increasing risk factor for cardiovascular disease as you age.
High blood pressure is often referred to as "hypertension," and low blood pressure is referred to as "hypotension." It's important to monitor blood pressure because if it's higher than normal, can mean that your arteries have become too narrow and stiff to allow blood to flow easily. Your heart is forced to work much harder than it should to push the blood around. This puts you at a higher risk for arterial damage, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
You can see in this cross-section of a damaged artery that there's only a narrow opening for the blood to flow through, which puts more stress on the heart:
How Is Blood Pressure Measured?
Blood pressure is measured using an inflatable cuff (its official name is a "sphygmomanometer" in case you like terrifying words). The cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated until it cuts off the circulation to the rest of your arm. A stethoscope is placed on your arm directly beneath the cuff as the cuff is slowly deflated through a small valve.
When the doctor hears the blood start to rush back into your arm, he or she records the mercury level indicated on the valve as your systolic pressure. The doctor will continue to let air out of the cuff, and when the rushing sound fades, the lower number on the valve is recorded as the diastolic pressure.
Nowadays, many doctors have machines that measure blood pressure automatically, so they might just wrap a cuff around your arm and press a button. You can even buy your own blood pressure monitor for at-home use.
You'll also find blood pressure machines at some pharmacies and other health-oriented retail locations that you can use to check your reading for free without setting foot in a doctor's office. All you have to do is stick your arm in a cuff and press a button:
Finally, let's look at your actual blood pressure chart.
Blood Pressure Chart
Your blood pressure puts you into one of 6 general blood pressure categories, ranging from Low blood pressure to Normal blood pressure, and several stage of High blood pressure. We'll explain each one below.
If you have a blood pressure measurement, look at where the numbers intersect on this blood pressure chart to see which category you fall into:
For example, 115/75 will put you in the "Normal blood pressure" zone. 160/100 puts you between "High blood pressure stage 1" and "High blood pressure stage 2."
What Does Your Blood Pressure Mean?
After consulting the blood pressure chart and figuring out which category you fall into, the next step is to decide whether you should take action to avoid negative health consequences. Here's some advice on what to do based on your blood pressure range.
Hypertensive Crisis (Severe High Blood Pressure)
People with blood pressure readings that are this high often need immediate emergency medical care. A systolic blood pressure of higher than 180 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure of higher than 110 mm Hg signifies a hypertensive crisis. At this point, there is a significant risk of life-threatening problems including heart attack, stroke, loss of kidney function, and fluid back-up in your lungs (pulmonary edema). You should be in the hospital or at least on your way there if your blood pressure reaches this level.
High Blood Pressure Stage 2
This is when high blood pressure starts to become very dangerous. In addition to making healthier lifestyle choices, you should consider taking medication to improve your condition in the short term. Even if you don't feel unhealthy, high blood pressure readings are a sign of trouble. High blood pressure doesn't always have obvious symptoms. There are a few tips in the last section of this article detailing lifestyle changes that can help you decrease your blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure Stage 1
If you're in this range, it's a good time to start making lifestyle changes to avoid health problems down the road. Work on improving your exercise and eating habits to bring yourself back to the healthy range (tips on this are listed in the next section). If your blood pressure doesn't decrease within the first few months of making these lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about supplementing your efforts with high blood pressure medication.
This range is right on the borderline between normal blood pressure and high blood pressure. It means you're not in danger yet, but you may be headed that way if you don't make some changes. This is the best time to become aware of potential problems with high blood pressure because you're catching the trend before it can do much damage. You should be able to turn things around by exercising more frequently and gradually altering your diet.
Normal Blood Pressure
If you're in the normal range, that's great! Your arteries are healthy, and your heart isn't taking on more work than it can handle. If you're a serious athlete, you're likely to be on the lower end of the normal blood pressure range because you exercise your heart so frequently. Also, some people simply have a genetic predisposition to blood pressure in the low normal range. If you haven't noticed yourself feeling faint or dizzy, you have no reason to be concerned.
Low Blood Pressure
As I've said, some people have naturally low blood pressure, so this may not be a concern if your readings have been consistently low throughout your life. However, they should still be in the 80-90 range for systolic pressure and 50-60 range for diastolic pressure. The issue with low blood pressure is that it can drop to a point where you become dizzy and even faint. Certain medications sometimes cause low blood pressure in people who usually have normal readings. If you've been taking a new medication and have noticed negative symptoms related to low blood pressure, voice your concerns to your doctor to ensure that the situation doesn't get worse or interfere with your daily functioning.
Reliability of Blood Pressure Readings
If your reading places you in an unexpected group, note that blood pressure measurements can be affected by temporary factors. These include:
- Recent exercise (this will lower your BP slightly)
- Coffee drinking (caffeine can cause a temporary spike in BP)
- Smoking (same effects as caffeine)
- Heightened emotional state (if you're particularly stressed, the surge of hormones can cause your BP to temporarily increase)
- Time of day (BP is typically lower in the morning than at night)
Because there are so many variables involved, you'll need to have your blood pressure measured by a doctor several times before you're officially diagnosed with high blood pressure. This blood pressure chart is not a substitute for a physician's visit.
Tips for Lowering Blood Pressure
If you find you have high blood pressure from the chart above, there are a few measures that you can take to get it back to normal. For people with particularly high blood pressure (high stage 1 or stage 2), these tips should probably be combined with medication.
Tip #1: Moderate Salt Intake
You'll find conflicting information about the relationship between salt intake and blood pressure. There is a consensus that excessive salt intake can cause blood pressure to increase. However, recent research gives us reason to believe that extremely low salt intake can also lead to serious health problems. Check labels of the foods you eat to see how much salt they contain so you can fit them into your daily allowance. Evidence suggests that a salt intake of between 3 and 5 grams per day is the ideal amount for most people.
Tip #2: Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Heavy drinking can be a contributor to issues with high blood pressure. If you're a regular drinker and have high blood pressure, try to cut down on your habit. Reducing alcohol consumption may contribute to weight loss as well, which can also help lower your blood pressure if you're overweight.
Tip #3: Exercise Regularly
The general recommendation for exercise is 30 minutes at moderate intensity five days a week. That can seem overwhelming if you haven't been doing any exercise at all up to this point, so don't force yourself to adhere to these guidelines right away. You might start by exercising at moderate intensity for two days a week and choosing to walk rather than drive whenever you have that option.
Tip #4: Choose Whole Foods
Maintaining a healthy weight can do wonders for your blood pressure, and the most important part of weight loss is diet. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is with gradual changes to your lifestyle.
Try to choose whole foods that are good sources of protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, and carbohydrates with low glycemic indexes. These include most fruits and vegetables and foods like fish, nuts, and legumes.
Avoid foods with lots of saturated fat and unhealthy carbohydrates with high glycemic indexes that will leave you unsatisfied. You'll be hungry less frequently, have more energy overall, and probably lose weight if you pay some attention to your caloric intake.
Understanding Your Blood Pressure
Maintaining a blood pressure that's within the healthy range is critical if you want to avoid health complications as you age. High blood pressure can cause damage to the circulatory system and lead to debilitating conditions including heart attacks and strokes.
The good news is that with early intervention in the form of lifestyle changes and medication, you can reverse these dangerous trends and go on to live a long, healthy life!
As you work on your blood pressure, keep measuring it and comparing it to the blood pressure chart above.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.