Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries as its pumped through your body by your heart.

High blood pressure, known in medical terms as hypertension, is when blood flows through your arteries with excessive force or pressure.

Your blood pressure reading has two numbers. The two numbers together are an indication of whether your blood pressure is within a healthy range.

  • The top number is your systolic pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts.
  • The bottom number is your diastolic pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between beats.

Normal blood pressure for most adults is considered to be 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower. This is written as 120/80 mm Hg, and you’d say this is “120 over 80.”

This article will take a closer look at blood pressure readings for adults, children, and pregnant people, what those readings mean, and the treatment options that are available for managing your blood pressure.

It’s estimated that 116 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure, but only about 1 in 4 of these adults have their blood pressure under control.

The only way to know for sure if you have high blood pressure is to get your blood pressure measured.

For most adults, blood pressure readings fall into the following categories:

Stage of hypertensionSystolic pressureDiastolic pressure
Healthy range120 mm Hg or lowerAND80 mm Hg or lower
Pre-hypertension120–129 mm HgAND80 mm Hg or lower
Stage 1 hypertension130–139 mm HgOR80–89 mm Hg
Stage 2 hypertension 140 mm Hg or higherOR90 mm Hg or higher
Hypertensive crises
(medical attention is needed)
180 mm Hg or higherOR120 mm Hg or higher

Having high blood pressure can be harmful to your health in several ways. Over time, it can damage your organs including your heart, kidneys, and brain.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of health issues caused by hypertension.

High blood pressure typically doesn’t have any warning signs. That’s why it’s often called the “silent killer.” Because there may not be any symptoms, many people are unaware that they have high blood pressure.

However, early detection of hypertension is key as it can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and more.

If your blood pressure is dangerously high, you may have the following symptoms:

But, it’s important to know about your high blood pressure and the health risks it poses before it gets to this stage.

The only way to know for sure if you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure measured. You can then work with your doctor to find the treatment options that work best for keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range.

Healthy blood pressure in adults is a reading of 120/80 mm Hg or below. But, what does it mean if your blood pressure numbers are higher than this?

A blood pressure of 120 to 129 mm Hg systolic and under 80 mm Hg diastolic is considered elevated. Elevated blood pressure means you have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure later on.

Your doctor may suggest eating less salt, eating a heart healthy diet, or living a more active lifestyle.

If your blood pressure reading falls into any of the following ranges, it’s important to talk with your doctor about medication or other lifestyle changes that may help keep your hypertension under control.

Stages of hypertension for adults

Stage of hypertensionSystolic pressureDiastolic pressure
Stage 1130–139 mm Hg80–89 mm Hg
Stage 2over 140 mm Hgover 90 mm Hg
Hypertensive crisis180 mm Hg or higher120 mm Hg or higher

High blood pressure can also affect children, from infants to teenagers. Unlike adults, there are specific healthy blood pressure ranges for children based on their age, height, and gender.

If your child is of average height (50th percentile) for their age, the range for healthy blood pressure is as follows:

Age (years)Range for maleRange for female
1–385/37–91/46 mm Hg 86/40–89/49 mm Hg
4–693/50–96/55 mm Hg91/52–94/56 mm Hg
7–1097/57–100/61 mm Hg96/57–102/60 mm Hg

If your child’s blood pressure is higher than these ranges, talk with their doctor about what can be done to manage their blood pressure.

High blood pressure can also occur during pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, about 8 percent of people develop some form of hypertension while pregnant.

  • Normal blood pressure during pregnancy is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic.
  • Readings higher than 140 mm Hg systolic or 90 mm Hg diastolic are considered high.

There are two main categories of high blood pressure in pregnancy:

  • Chronic hypertension. This is when blood pressure is high before you become pregnant or when high blood pressure develops before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. These types of high blood pressure problems are specific to pregnant people and typically develop after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These blood pressure issues typically disappear after you give birth.

Your doctor may prescribe medications if you have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Usually, before a doctor’s appointment, a nurse checks your blood pressure to make sure it’s not too low or too high. But you can also check your blood pressure readings at home.

You can use an inflatable cuff, similar to those used at your doctor’s office. Or you can use a digital blood pressure monitor with automatic cuff inflation.

Read the directions carefully when measuring your blood pressure at home, and follow the instructions that come with the product.

Also, keep in mind that certain factors may cause a temporary rise in your blood pressure. These factors include:

  • stress or anxiety
  • cold temperatures
  • recent exercise
  • smoking
  • caffeine intake
  • a full bladder

For a more accurate blood pressure reading:

  • Take your blood pressure in a quiet location when you’re calm and relaxed.
  • Don’t exercise, smoke, or drink caffeine for at least 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure.
  • It’s best to vary the times of day that you take your pressure readings to see the range of your readings.

How often should you get your blood pressure checked?

If your blood pressure is higher than it should be, follow your doctor’s advice with regard to how often you should check your blood pressure at home. Also find out from your doctor what you should do if your blood pressure readings are higher than usual.

If you don’t have high blood pressure, it’s still important to get it checked regularly, as blood pressure can change over time. Medical experts suggest the following timeline for low risk individuals:

  • For people between 18 and 40. Get your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years.
  • For anyone over 40. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year.

You may need to have your blood pressure checked more regularly if you:

  • have a family history of hypertension
  • have heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • are overweight or have obesity
  • have sleep apnea or insomnia
  • smoke

You don’t necessarily have to get your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s office. Some health care clinics do free blood pressure screenings. You may also schedule an appointment at your local pharmacy.

Untreated and uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and other organs, including your heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain.

Complications of hypertension can include:

If you’re pregnant, high blood pressure complications may increase your risk of:

A doctor may diagnose high blood pressure if your average blood pressure readings are consistently high on two or more separate appointments.

Some people get white coat hypertension, meaning their blood pressure increases at doctor appointments because of nervousness. Let your doctor know if this is the case for you.

You can also record your blood pressure at home over several days. If your results are consistently high, meaning over 120/80 mm Hg, schedule a follow-up appointment.

Medications are often prescribed to treat high blood pressure. These include:

If an underlying medical condition causes hypertension, you’ll need to treat this condition to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

For example, people with sleep apnea tend to develop high blood pressure. Treatment of sleep apnea with a CPAP machine may help lower high blood pressure. Another example is high blood pressure associated with obesity that improves after weight loss.

You may have high blood pressure that’s independent of an underlying medical condition. This type of high blood pressure is the most common type and is known as essential hypertension. Patients with essential hypertension may require lifelong medication to control it.

Once your doctor prescribes a course of treatment, it’s important to follow their instructions and to carefully monitor your blood pressure at home. Be sure to let your doctor know if your treatment isn’t helping your blood pressure.

In many cases, making certain lifestyle changes can help you lower your blood pressure or even prevent it from becoming elevated. These changes include:

  • following the DASH diet which stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension”
  • reducing your intake of sodium (salt)
  • increasing your intake of potassium
  • getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week
  • losing weight if you have overweight, or maintaining a healthy body weight
  • reducing your consumption of alcohol
  • quitting smoking as nicotine can cause immediate hypertension and damage your blood vessels
  • learning stress management techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation
  • getting enough sleep at night (one study found that people with insomnia who slept less than 6 hours a night were 3 times more likely to develop hypertension compared to people who slept more than 6 hours per night)

It may be difficult to prevent high blood pressure during pregnancy. But you may be able to lower your risk by:

Call your doctor if you have high blood pressure and:

These symptoms may be a sign of serious complications due to high blood pressure or other concerning medical problems and require urgent medical attention.

High blood pressure is when blood flows through your arteries with excessive force or pressure. Your blood pressure reading has two numbers which, together, are an indication of whether your blood pressure is within a healthy range.

Normal blood pressure for most adults is considered to be 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower. If either of these numbers are higher than this reading, it could be an indication of pre-hypertension, or stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

If your systolic pressure reading is 180 or higher or your diastolic pressure is 120 or higher, it’s considered a hypertensive crises and you need medical attention right away.

Blood pressure readings in children and pregnant people can differ from those for adults.

Because high blood pressure typically doesn’t have any symptoms, the only way to know for sure if you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure measured.