About 75 million people in the United States (32%) have high blood pressure, or about 1 in 3 adults. High blood pressure was a primary or a contributing cause of death for over 400,000 Americans in 2014. That equates to about 1,100 deaths per day.
Maintaining normal blood pressure will help minimize the risk of serious health issues, including damage to your arteries, enlarged heart, coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure.
But what should normal blood pressure be? What exactly do your blood pressure numbers mean?
Ideal Blood Pressure Chart
What Your Blood Pressure Numbers Mean
If you’ve ever had your blood pressure taken, you may be wondering what each number means.
Blood pressure readings are listed as XXX/XX mm Hg (e.g. 117/76 mm Hg). The “mm Hg” abbreviation stands for millimeters of mercury.
- The upper number is your systolic blood pressure number, and it indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against the walls of your arteries when the heart beats.
- The lower number is your diastolic blood pressure number, and it indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against the walls of your arteries when your heart is at rest.
Both figures are important, but generally, more attention is given to the systolic blood pressure number. This figure is a major risk factor for heart disease in people over the age of 50.
It’s important to note that systolic blood pressure levels usually rise with age. Over time, the arteries naturally stiffen up and plaque builds up along the artery walls.
What Should Normal Blood Pressure Be?
What is the ideal blood pressure for an adult? A reading of 120 over 80 is considered normal.
Anything higher is considered abnormal or unhealthy.
- Elevated: Systolic: 120-129; Diastolic: less than 80.
- High Blood Pressure (Stage 1 hypertension): Systolic: 130-139; Diastolic: 80-89.
- High Blood Pressure (Stage 2 hypertension): Systolic: 140 or higher; Diastolic: 90 or higher.
- Hypertensive Crisis: Systolic: higher than 180; Diastolic: higher than 120.
People who have elevated blood pressure levels are going to develop hypertension unless lifestyle changes are made to get levels under control.
With hypertension stages one and two, doctors are likely to prescribe medication and lifestyle changes to control blood pressure levels.
If readings reach the hypertensive crisis level, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Do not wait to see if your pressure comes down if you are experiencing chest pain, back pain, shortness of breath, vision changes, difficulty speaking or numbness/weakness.
Readings of 90/60 or less indicate low blood pressure.
What are the Risks and Causes of Low Blood Pressure?
What if your blood pressure reading is on the low side? Should you be worried? Probably not.
Some people naturally have lower blood pressure levels, and for many, that’s good news. The lower your blood pressure, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. But there are some cases where having low blood pressure can cause some issues.
Some medical conditions and medications can also cause low blood pressure.
Generally, there is no cause for concern or risks with lower blood pressure levels. If levels get too low, you may feel dizzy or faint. But there really are no other risks to having low blood pressure, nor does it need to be treated.
The only time you should be concerned is if your levels drop suddenly and are much lower than usual. In this case, an underlying medical condition may be causing your levels to drop.
What Are The Major Risks & Common Causes of High Blood Pressure?
If your bp readings are consistently 140/90 or higher, you likely have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, puts excess strain on your heart and your blood vessels. In time, this extra pressure can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack. Hypertension also puts you at risk for kidney and heart disease.
Additionally, high blood pressure can cause:
- Choroidopathy (fluid build-up under the retina): Caused by leaky blood vessels under the retina, which cause fluid build-up. Can cause distorted vision or scarring that impairs vision.
- Retinopathy (blood vessel damage in the eye): Hypertension can damage the vessels that supply blood to your retina. This can cause bleeding in the eye, which can lead to blurred or lost vision.
- Optic neuropathy (eye nerve damage): The optic nerve is damaged by blocked blood flow. Optic neuropathy can kill nerve cells in the eyes, leading to bleeding and vision loss.
Along with vision problems, high blood pressure can also cause sexual dysfunction. Men with high blood pressure are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction. For women, high blood pressure can reduce blood flow to the vagina, lowering libido and causing dryness.
Hypertension is typically caused by a number of factors, some of which are out of your control. Lifestyle plays a major role in your blood pressure levels. You may be at risk for high blood pressure if:
- You don’t get enough exercise
- You drink too much alcohol
- You are overweight
- Your salt intake is too high
- You don’t eat a healthy diet
These are factors that you do have control over, but there are other factors that can increase your risk and are out of your control. These include:
- Family History: If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you are at a greater risk of developing it yourself.
- Age: Blood pressure naturally rises as you age, but this may be exacerbated by an unhealthy lifestyle.
- Ethnic Origin: People of South Asian and Africa-Caribbean decent are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure than other people.
What Does Hypertension Mean?
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, you may be wondering what this means.
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Both terms are interchangeable. Generally, your blood pressure levels must be above 140/90 mmHg over several weeks to be diagnosed with hypertension. In other words, your blood pressure levels are consistently high over a long period of time.
Tips For Treating High BP
Depending on the severity of the hypertension, lifestyle changes may be all that’s needed to return blood pressure levels back to normal.
Lifestyle changes may include:
- Healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Proper stress management
If lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication. Blood pressure medications typically fall into one of four categories:
- Angiotensin receptor blockers
- ACE inhibitors
- Thiazide diuretics
- Calcium channel blockers
Every person is different, so some medications may work better for some people than others. Medication alone is usually not enough to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. A combination of lifestyle changes and medications may be needed to resolve the problem.