What Is a Normal Blood Pressure Reading?

Knowing Your Blood Pressure Numbers Can Be Lifesaving

Doctor taking patients blood pressure
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According to guidelines from the American Heart Association, a normal blood pressure reading is below 120/80 mmHg (pronounced "120 over 80"). There can be a fair amount of variation in this reading, depending on a person's overall health and other physical characteristics.

Even how a person is feeling at the moment their blood pressure is read can affect the reading. For example, nervousness can temporarily cause the heart to beat faster and it can also cause blood pressure to increase. This is common among people who become anxious during healthcare visits. In fact, high blood pressure in these circumstances sometimes is referred to as white coat hypertension.

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. It can come on suddenly (acute) or be present for a long period of time (chronic). It can signal an underlying heart problem and damage the heart. Over time, chronic hypertension increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, organ failure, and kidney disease.

For this reason, it's a good idea to know what your usual blood pressure reading is so that you and your healthcare provider will be able to recognize changes that could be concerning.

What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure measures the force of blood on the walls of blood vessels as it is pumped throughout the body. For most people, a normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mmHg.

What is Blood Pressure?

When your heart beats, blood travels through your body to deliver oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs. The blood exerts pressure on the inner walls of your arteries.

There are two components of blood pressure, systolic and diastolic, which accounts for the two numbers that are used to measure it:

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

  • The force exerted against the inner walls of arteries that occurs with each heartbeat

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

  • The force exerted on artery walls when the heart relaxes

Blood pressure is measured using an inflatable blood pressure cuff attached to a meter that detects the amount of force blood puts on arterial walls during and between heartbeats, expressing this pressure as millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

Normal vs. Abnormal Blood Pressure

Both high blood pressure and low pressure (hypotension) can indicate a health issue, although hypertension typically is more of a concern than hypotension. The American Heart Association guidelines define five categories of blood pressure values.

Systolic pressure generally is given more consideration for people 50 and older because it tends to rise steadily with age as arteries become less pliable and plaque begins to build up, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases the workload on the heart and is associated with the damage of arteries throughout the body.

The American Heart Association recognizes five categories of blood pressure ranging from normal to dangerously high :

Stage Systolic Reading   Diastolic Reading
Normal Less than 120 mmHg and Less than 80 mmHg
Elevated 120 to 129 mmHg and Less than 80 mmhG
Stage 1 Hypertension 130 to 139 mmHg or 80 to 89 mmHg
Stage 2 Hypertension 140 mmHg or higher or 90 mmHg or higher
Hypertensive Crisis (a medical emergency) 180 mmHg or higher and/or 120 mmHg or higher

High blood pressure does not usually cause obvious symptoms, so it's advisable to get regular medical exams and see your healthcare provider if you suspect anything might be wrong. Some steps in your daily life can prevent hypertension, such as eating a healthy diet, cutting back on added salt, exercising regularly, not smoking, and avoiding alcohol.

Low Blood Pressure

Hypotension is less well-defined than hypertension, and below 90/60 mmHg is generally regarded as too low. Low blood pressure can occur due to things like dehydration or vascular disease, and it becomes problematic when it causes symptoms:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired ability to concentrate

A Word From Verywell

Normal blood pressure can vary a little and so what's normal for you may not be normal for someone else. However, blood pressure that's out of the normal range should be treated. The next time your healthcare provider measures your blood pressure, ask them what the numbers are so that you will have an idea of where you stand. (Obviously, if your blood pressure is alarmingly high or low your practitioner will tell you right away if treatment is necessary.) Finally, learning to take your own blood pressure at home may be worthwhile with the guidance of your healthcare provider.

7 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. American Heart Association. Understanding blood pressure readings.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure symptoms and causes.

  3. American Heart Association. Health threats from high blood pressure.

  4. American Heart Association. What is high blood pressure?

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measure your blood pressure.

  6. American Heart Association. Understanding blood pressure readings.

  7. American Heart Association. Low blood pressure-when blood pressure is too low.

By Cherie Berkley, MS
Cherie Berkley is an award-winning journalist and multimedia storyteller covering health features for Verywell.