What Is An Abnormal Blood Pressure Range?

Understanding Your Blood Pressure Reading

Your blood pressure is a measure of the force of your blood as it moves through the arteries in your body. Monitoring your blood pressure is important, as high blood pressure is linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

When taking your blood pressure, a doctor or nurse will report two numbers—systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.

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

  • Defined as the force exerted against your artery walls when your heart pumps or beats

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

  • Defined as the force exerted against your artery walls when your heart is resting, in between heartbeats

What Is High Blood Pressure?

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AHA) recognize and stage hypertension as follows:

Elevated

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

If left untreated, a person with elevated high blood pressure is at risk for developing stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

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 80 mmHg.

Stage 2

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

Understanding the ACC/AHA Definition

It's important to mention that the definition of high blood pressure according to the ACC/AHA defers 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 greater than 90 mmHg.

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 causes no symptoms (regardless of the stage) unless dangerous complications arise, such as:

  • Heart attack or failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney injury

Each complication is associated with its own symptoms and signs. For instance, heart complications may cause chest pain or trouble breathing, while a stroke may cause headache and/or blurry vision. The first sign of kidney injury is usually an elevation in a person's blood creatinine level.

How to Treat High Blood Pressure

The treatment of high blood pressure typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes and one or more medications.

For individuals with elevated high blood pressure, lifestyle changes are emphasized, in order to avoid the progression to stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

Lifestyle Changes

If followed, these lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure:

  • Restricting salt in your diet by avoiding processed foods and eating fresh-foods
  • Losing weight, if 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 doctor 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

Fortunately, medication (along with behavioral changes) is often very effective in lowering a person's blood pressure.

The medications used to treat high blood pressure are generally broken into four main categories:

Keep in mind—finding the right medication, or combination of medications, for your high blood pressure, often requires a trial-and-error process. Try to remain patient and keep in close contact with your doctor as your regimen is fine-tuned.

What Is Low Blood Pressure?

Low blood pressure, called hypotension, is defined as a systolic blood pressure that is less than 90mmHg.

There are several potential causes of hypotension, such as pregnancy, underlying heart conditions, certain medications, dehydration, and shock from an infection (septic shock) or allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock).

Low blood pressure is generally not worrisome unless a person has symptoms from it, such as lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting.

Other potential symptoms of low blood pressure (some of which are directly related to the underlying cause) may include:

  • Nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Breathing fast
  • Thirst

How to Treat Low Blood Pressure 

The treatment of low blood pressure involves addressing the underlying cause. For instance, if a patient is experiencing symptoms of low blood pressure from dehydration, the treatment would be fluid replacement (either by mouth or intravenously, depending on the severity).

What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

A normal blood pressure is a systolic blood pressure that is less than 120 mmHg ) and a diastolic blood pressure that is less than 80 mmHg.

The ACC and 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.

Preventing High Blood Pressure

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 was high. Again, some key habits include losing weight if you are overweight or obese, exercising every day, reducing alcohol consumption, and stopping smoking.

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  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. (Reviewed 2016). Low Blood Pressure - When Blood Pressure Is Too Low.

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