High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
What Is Considered High Blood Pressure?
Getting a Handle on the Numbers
When your healthcare provider takes off a blood-pressure cuff and reads you a pair of numbers, you may be stumped for a second.
“118 over 75” … “146 over 90” … “131 over 82” … “90 over 60” …
You may not have a framework for how to interpret these results. Are they fantastic? Terrible? Just OK?
In addition to your best efforts to get plenty of exercise and eat a healthy diet to avoid hypertension, you may also need a crash course on how to interpret your blood pressure readings.
Click through the slideshow to learn what numbers indicate high blood pressure.
The Normal Range
In basic terms, you have normal blood pressure if your blood pressure is less than 120/80. The first number represents systolic pressure, which is the pressure against the artery walls as your heart pumps out blood. The second number, the diastolic figure, indicates the pressure as your heart chambers refill with blood.
Your chart may show the blood pressure written for example as “115/75 mm Hg,” where “mm Hg” stands for millimeters of mercury. These are the units used for measuring blood pressure.
Understanding the Cutoffs
Here’s what your numbers mean if they are higher than 120/80:
- You have a condition called prehypertension if your top number falls in the range of 120 to 139 or your bottom number ends up between 80 and 89.
- If your top number is between 140 and 159 or the bottom number is between 90 and 99, you have stage 1 high blood pressure.
- And if your top number is 160 or higher, or your bottom number is 100 or higher, you have stage 2 high blood pressure.
If you have chronic kidney disease or diabetes, you will be placed in the high blood pressure category with a lower cutoff: a reading of 130/80 or higher, rather than 140/90.
The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommends this lower target so you can receive aggressive treatment to slow the progression of kidney disease. The committee also recommends 130/80 as the high blood pressure cutoff for patients with coronary artery disease.
Interpreting High Systolic Numbers
Your top and bottom numbers may fall in different categories. If this is the case, you’ll be placed in the more severe category. For example, if your systolic figure is above 140, you’ll be considered to have high blood pressure, even if your diastolic number is in the low range—say, below 80.
A high top number can be a major risk for seniors, and even for folks over age 50. This is because blood pressure steadily rises as you get older. Your arteries become stiffer and plaque tends to build up in them.
Numbers that Scream Emergency
Hopefully, you will never be told your blood pressure reads higher than 180 for the top number or 110 for the bottom number.
These figures represent what is called a hypertensive crisis. You may be experiencing headache, shortness of breath, anxiety, or nosebleeds. You need help immediately to control your blood pressure and bring your circulatory system under control. You can call for an ambulance or have a friend take you to the hospital.
The Norms for Children
The National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group on High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents came up with recommendations for children.
Determining high blood pressure for children requires measuring the right arm of a relaxed, seated child. The numbers can be compared to a chart classifying normal, pre-hypertensive, and high systolic blood pressure by age, sex, and height.
For example, three-year-old girls would have high blood pressure with a top number above 104 to 110, depending on height. For boys age three, the corresponding range is 104 to 113.
For 17-year-old girls, high blood pressure would range from 125 to 132. For boys, high blood pressure occurs with a systolic figure of 131 to 140.
Newborns have enviably low blood pressure: an average of 64/41. And from one month old to two years old, babies and toddlers average 95/58.
- A Pocket Guide to Blood Pressure Measurement in Children. (2007, May). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/bp_child_pocket/bp_child_pocket.pdf
- High Blood Pressure. (2013, October 17). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/high-blood-pressure
- High blood pressure – infants. (2012, June 12). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007329.htm
- Hypertensive Crisis. (2004, April 12). American Heart Association. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Hypertensive-Crisis_UCM_301782_Article.jsp
- Izzo, J.L., Sica, D.A., & Black, H.R. (2008). Hypertension primer: the essentials of high blood pressure: Basic science, population science, and clinical management (4th ed., Google Books version). Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://books.google.com/books?id=Sw9-Am4RvCMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=hypertension+primer+5th+edition&hl=en&sa=X&ei=S0SIUveHIPTNsQS8w4GoAg&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=130%2F80%20kidney&f=false
- Reference Card from the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7). (2003, May). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/phycard.pdf
- The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. (2004). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/express.pdf
- Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. (2012, April 4). American Heart Association. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp
- What Is High Blood Pressure? (2013, August 2). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/