What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure (HBP) is a serious condition
that can lead to
kidney failure, and other health problems.
“Blood pressure” is the force of blood
pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps out blood. If
this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage the body in many
About 1 in 3 adults in the United States has HBP.
HBP itself usually has no symptoms. You can have it for years without knowing
it. During this time, though, it can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys,
and other parts of your body.
This is why knowing your blood pressure numbers is
important, even when you’re feeling fine. If your blood pressure is
normal, you can work with your health care team to keep it that way. If your
blood pressure is too high, you need treatment to prevent damage to your
Blood Pressure Numbers
Blood pressure numbers include systolic (sis-TOL-ik)
and diastolic (di-a-STOL-ik) pressures. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure
when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic blood pressure is the
pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.
You will most often see blood pressure numbers
written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic, such as 120/80
mmHg. (The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood
The table below shows normal numbers for adults. It
also shows which numbers put you at greater risk for health problems. Blood
pressure tends to goes up and down, even in people who have normal blood
pressure. If your numbers stay above normal most of the time, you’re at
Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults (in
mmHg, or millimeters of mercury)
||Less than 120
Less than 80
|High blood pressure
| Stage 1
| Stage 2
||160 or higher
|| 100 or higher
The ranges in the table apply to most adults (aged
18 and older) who don’t have short-term serious illnesses.
All levels above 120/80 mmHg raise your risk, and
the risk grows as blood pressure levels rise. “Prehypertension”
means you’re likely to end up with HBP, unless you take steps to prevent
If you’re being treated for HBP and have
repeat readings in the normal range, your blood pressure is under control.
However, you still have the condition. You should see your doctor and stay on
treatment to keep you blood pressure under control.
Your systolic and diastolic numbers may not be in
the same blood pressure category. In this case, the more severe category is the
one you're in. For example, if your systolic number is 160 and your diastolic
number is 80, you have stage 2 HBP. If your systolic number is 120 and your
diastolic number is 95, you have stage 1 HBP.
If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, HBP
is defined as 130/80 mmHg or higher. HBP numbers also differ for children
and teens. (For more information, see “How
Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?”)
Blood pressure tends to rise with age. Following a
healthy lifestyle helps some people delay or prevent this rise in blood
People who have HBP can take steps to control it and
reduce their risks for related health problems. Key steps include following a
healthy lifestyle, having ongoing medical care, and following the treatment
plan that your doctor prescribes.