What Is Abnormal Blood Pressure?

Know the ranges for high and low blood pressure

Your blood pressure is the force of your blood as it moves through the arteries in your body. A blood pressure measurement is made up of two numbers: systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.

When your blood pressure is not within a normal range, it puts you at risk of serious health problems including heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure is generally a greater risk. It's also called hypertension. Low blood pressure is called hypotension.

This article discusses what blood pressure level is considered normal, what it means when your blood pressure is too low or too high, how blood pressure conditions are treated, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Systolic Blood Pressure
  • The first (top) number in a blood pressure reading

  • The force exerted against your artery walls when your heart beats

Diastolic Blood Pressure
  • The second (bottom) number in a blood pressure reading

  • The force exerted against your artery walls when your heart is between beats

What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

Having a normal blood pressure means that your systolic blood pressure ranges (on average) from 90 to 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Your diastolic blood pressure is 60 to 80 mmHg.

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If an adult has one or more risk factors for high blood pressure—for example, a family history or a history of smoking—they should be screened at least twice a year.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

The ACC and the AHA recognize multiple stages of hypertension.

Elevated

An elevated high blood pressure means that your systolic blood pressure ranges (on average) from 120 to 129 mmHg and your diastolic blood pressure is less than 80 mmHg.

If left untreated, elevated blood pressure puts you at risk for developing stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

hypertension diagnosis

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Stage 1

Stage 1 hypertension means that your systolic blood pressure is between 130 to 139 mmHg or your diastolic blood pressure is between 80 to 89 mmHg.

Stage 2

Stage 2 hypertension means that your systolic blood pressure is 140 mmHg or higher or your diastolic blood pressure is 90 mmHg or above.

Hypertensive Crisis

If your blood pressure is above 180/120 mmHg, it's considered a hypertensive crisis and you should seek medical help immediately. Call 911 if you also experience chest pain, back pain, shortness of breath, numbness or weakness, vision changes, or difficulty speaking.

Understanding the ACC/AHA Definition

It's important to mention that the definition of high blood pressure according to the ACC/AHA differs slightly from other professional societies, such as the European Society of Cardiology and the European Society of Hypertension (ESC/ESH).

The ESC/ESH defines high blood pressure as a systolic blood pressure that is 140 mmHg or higher or a diastolic blood pressure that is 90 mmHg or higher.

The differences in definition are based on results from large studies that examined the link between blood pressure and the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes.

Symptoms and Complications

Hypertension is often referred to as the "silent killer" because it often causes no symptoms (regardless of the stage) unless dangerous complications develop. High blood pressure puts you at risk for other serious conditions such as:

  • Heart attack, which may cause chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Heart failure, which may cause swelling, fatigue, and trouble breathing
  • Stroke, which may cause headache, weakness, paralysis, or blurry vision
  • Chronic kidney disease and kidney failure, which may cause elevated levels of creatinine in the blood, higher levels of white and red blood cells, and protein in the urine
Blood Pressure Ranges
BLOOD PRESSURE  SYSTOLIC AND/OR DIASTOLIC
Normal 90-120 and 60-80
Elevated 120-129 and 60-80
Stage 1 Hypertension 130-139 or 80-89
Stage 2 Hypertension Above 140 or Above 90
Hypertensive Crisis Above 180 and/or Above 120
Hypotension Under 90 and Under 60

Treating High Blood Pressure

Treatment for high blood pressure typically involves lifestyle changes along with one or more medications. If you have elevated high blood pressure, lifestyle changes are the first step to avoid the progression to stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes that can lower blood pressure include:

  • Restricting salt in your diet by avoiding processed foods and eating fresh foods
  • Losing weight if you're overweight or obese
  • Engaging in regular physical activity—at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking

Your healthcare provider may also recommend the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which has been found to lower blood pressure. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red meats and sweets.

Medications

Medication, along with lifestyle changes, is often very effective in lowering a person's blood pressure.

The drugs used to treat high blood pressure can be broken into four main categories:

Finding the right medication, or the right combination of drugs, to control your high blood pressure often requires a trial-and-error process. Your healthcare provider will help you to keep your treatment plan on target.

What Is Low Blood Pressure?

Low blood pressure, called hypotension, is defined as a systolic blood pressure that is less than 90 mmHg. It has several potential causes, such as:

Low blood pressure is generally not worrisome unless you have symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting.

Depending on what is causing your low blood pressure, other potential symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Thirst

Treating Low Blood Pressure 

The treatments for low blood pressure involve addressing the underlying cause.

For instance, if you're experiencing low blood pressure from dehydration, the treatment would be to replace fluids and electrolytes, minerals that play a key role in keeping your body healthy.

Summary

Your blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff and recorded in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). A normal systolic blood pressure is 90 to 120 mmHg (the top number) while a normal diastolic pressure is 60 to 80 mmHg (the lower number).

Your blood pressure is considered elevated when the systolic number is between 120 and 129. The stages of hypertension then increase from there, with a serious hypertensive crisis defined as anything at or above 180/120.

Lifestyle changes and medication are used to control high blood pressure. Low blood pressure can be a problem too, but treatment usually focuses on the underlying condition that's causing it.

A Word From Verywell

Even if your blood pressure is normal, it's important to engage in healthy lifestyle habits—the same ones you would engage in if your blood pressure were high. These habits include losing excess weight, exercising, reducing alcohol consumption, and not smoking.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice GuidelinesJ Am Coll Cardiol. 2018;71:e127-e248. doi:10.1161/HYP.0000000000000066

  2. Williams B et al. 2018 ESC/ESH Guidelines for the management of arterial hypertension. Eur Heart J. 2018 Sep 1;39(33):3021-104. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehy339

  3. American Heart Association. Low blood pressure - When blood pressure is too low.

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