Each time the heart beats, it creates pressure inside the large blood vessels (called arteries). The arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure (the top number): This is the pressure inside the arteries when the heart pumps blood.
Diastolic pressure (the bottom number): This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes between beats.
Because pressure is greatest when blood is pumped out of the heart, your systolic number is higher than your diastolic number.
Which Number Is More Important?
Both are important. The systolic number becomes more important as you get older (60+) and your arteries become more stiff. High systolic pressure can be a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and heart failure.
Healthy and Unhealthy Blood Pressure Ranges
Learn what’s considered normal, as recommended by the American Heart Association.
Blood Pressure Categories
The five blood pressure ranges as recognized by the American Heart Association are:
Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Elevated blood pressure is when readings consistently range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control the condition.
Hypertension Stage 1
Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as heart attack or stroke.
Hypertension Stage 2
Hypertension Stage 2 is when blood pressure consistently ranges at 140/90 mm Hg or higher. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.
This stage of high blood pressure requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and then test your blood pressure again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.
Check your blood pressure routinely. That way you can better understand your patterns and trends. If you can’t control it with lifestyle changes, medication may be necessary.