What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

Understanding What's Normal

Woman checking blood pressure in living room. Hero Images/ GettyImages

Blood pressure readings give you and your doctor an important picture of how easily blood moves through your circulatory system. Blood pressure readings give a sense of the elasticity of the walls of your arteries as well as the strength of your heart, so when your blood pressure is too high or too low, further investigation is warranted.

Why Is Blood Pressure Important?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be dangerous and increase your risk for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, and kidney disease.

By lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients, important organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys, are protected from damage. Treating hypertension can achieve dramatic reductions in all of these conditions, and is an important part of maintaining overall health. 

What Are Blood Pressure Readings?

Blood pressure readings are comprised of two numbers. Systolic pressure (the top number) measures pressure in the arteries during heart beats; diastolic pressure (the bottom number) measures pressure in the arteries in the interval between heartbeats, or when it is at rest. 

What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

For a long time, normal blood pressure was defined as 120/80 mm Hg (systolic/diastolic). Recently, however, the American Heart Association revised its guidelines about what an optimal blood pressure range is, and when blood pressure is considered too high, or too low. 

Systolic blood pressure is generally given more consideration for those 50 years and older because this number tends to rise steadily as people age due to decreased elasticity of arteries, a build-up of plaque in the arteries over years, and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in older age groups.


What Does the American Heart Association Recommend? 

The AHA has categorized blood pressure ranges to indicate various stages of hypertension: 

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic  Diastolic 
Normalless than 120andless than 80
Prehypertension120 to 139or80 to 89
Stage 1 High Blood Pressure (hypertension) 140 to 159or 90 to 99
Stage 2 High Blood Pressure (hypertension) 160 or higheror100 or higher
Hypertensive crisis (requiring emergency care)Higher than 180or Higher than 110

What If My Blood Pressure Is High?

A single elevated reading is not usually enough to diagnose hypertension. Rather, a high blood pressure reading may prompt your doctor to take several more over time to see whether there is a trend, or ask you to monitor your blood pressure at home.  

If your blood pressure readings are consistently high, you and your doctor will probably discuss treatment strategies. Treatment for high blood pressure often begins with lifestyle changes such as a weight loss and exercise program as well as a low sodium diet. In fact, the AHA recommends adopting these strategies as a means of preventing the development of high blood pressure and heart disease. If these strategies are not successful in lowering your blood pressure, medications may be recommended. 

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