Blood Pressure Chart: Where Do Your Numbers Fit?

High blood pressure is one of the main enlarged heart causes, along with coronary artery disease. So keep an eye on your blood pressure chart.

blood pressure chart

“We know we can prevent high blood pressure through diet, weight loss, and physical activity,” says Dr. Paul Whelton of Tulane University. “We can also treat it, and we can treat it effectively.”

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A nurse takes your blood pressure at your annual physical. The numbers are recorded and the checkup continues. But do you know where on the blood pressure chart your levels are? Are they healthy? Too low? Too high, meaning you have hypertension? If you have high blood pressure or are heading in that direction, you should know that hypertension is among the primary enlarged heart causes, and a major risk factor for heart failure.

To better understand your blood pressure readings, you should understand what blood pressure is and what each number represents.

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What Is Blood Pressure?

Imagine a garden hose hooked up to a spigot. When the hose is flexible and there are no kinks in it, you can turn on the water full blast and it will flow easily through the hose. But if there’s a kink in the hose, the water doesn’t flow as well beyond the kink. And the pressure inside the hose builds up behind the kink. Or imagine there is gunk inside the hose blocking the path of the water. Your arteries are a lot like that garden hose.

reading-blood-pressure

Simply put, blood pressure is the force exerted by blood flow against the interior walls of your arteries. Ideally, your arteries are relaxed, open, and clear of any blockage. This allows blood to flow easily.

A variety of factors, however, can lead to narrowed arteries. Plaque buildup on the artery walls is a common problem and can sometimes result in total blockage. The arteries can also become less able to widen if you’re a smoker. Cold weather can temporarily constrict your arteries, too.

When your bloodstream is forced to move through tighter passageways, your blood pressure increases and your heart has to work harder. Over time, this leads to a weaker but enlarged heart. Causes of enlarged heart, other than hypertension, include a disease of the heart’s valves or a disease of the heart muscle itself, also known as cardiomyopathy.

This is why it’s important to know what measurements indicate high blood pressure. “Hypertension is a leading risk factor for death and disability worldwide,” says Paul Whelton, MD, a hypertension expert at Tulane University. “High blood pressure raises the risk of having a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or kidney disease.”
blood pressure chart

Reading a Blood Pressure Chart

When your heart contracts and squeezes blood out into your network of arteries, the pressure inside those blood vessels is at its highest. This is called systolic pressure and it’s the top number on your blood pressure reading. In between beats, the heart relaxes and the pressure drops. This is your diastolic blood pressure, and it’s the reading’s bottom number.

Once you get your reading, you can see where on a blood pressure chart your levels place you.

  • A healthy or normal blood pressure is considered less than 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury—which is still how the measurement is presented, even though most new blood pressure monitors don’t actually use mercury any more).
  • A systolic pressure of 120 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mm Hg is considered pre-hypertension—a precursor to high blood pressure.
  • Stage 1 hypertension is considered any systolic pressure between 140 to 159 or diastolic pressure between 90 and 99.
  • Stage 2 hypertension is considered any systolic pressure of 160 mm Hg or higher, or diastolic pressure of 100 mm Hg or higher.

If your numbers put you in the Stage 1 or Stage 2 areas of the blood pressure chart, you should definitely talk with your doctor about medications and lifestyle changes that can help bring it down. If you’ve been prescribed anti-hypertensive medications, you have to keep taking them even if you get your blood pressure to a healthy target.

Older adults may be able to live comfortably and in good health with a blood pressure in the 130/85 range. Such a reading may not necessitate any medical intervention. But complicating factors, such as diabetes or a history of heart attack or stroke, must be considered before you and your doctor work out the right target blood pressure for you.

“Every person has to be evaluated as an individual,” says Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP, a nurse practitioner with the Rush Heart Center for Women at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center. “Realistically, we can’t get everybody down to 120, and trying to do so may create unintended problems.”

The definition of low blood pressure differs from one person to the next, but in general, a reading of less than 90/60 mm Hg is considered low. If you’re in that category, you may need medications to help you boost your blood pressure. As you might imagine, hypotension (low blood pressure) is much less common than hypertension.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

BLOOD PRESSURE DIET?

Help yourself and your blood pressure level by considering your diet. These University Health News posts will help lead you toward heart-healthy foods:

Heed the Blood Pressure Chart Warnings

If your blood pressure remains high for a long period of time, you run the risk of damaging your blood vessels. Your stroke risk rises significantly, too. And because your heart is working harder to push blood through your system, that very valuable muscle can become overworked and grow thicker. An enlarged heart causes further complications, including heart failure. Medications and special implantable pumps can help boost heart function. But if you can manage your blood pressure before it gets too high and puts your heart at risk, you may be able to avoid a lot of complications down the road.

“We know we can prevent high blood pressure through diet, weight loss, and physical activity,” says Dr. Whelton. “We can also treat it, and we can treat it effectively.”

If you’ve seen your numbers on the hypertension part of the blood pressure chart, it’s time to be proactive. If your doctor isn’t giving you advice or treatment that seems right, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.


Originally published in 2016, this article is regularly updated.

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Comments
  • Irene J.

    my bp was 150/80 this month and I am 73. My Dr. says I have old age hypertension. I do not want to go on anti hypertensive drugs with side effects. I started on 500 mg L- Arginine bid. Please comment

  • Try that and maybe a garlic pill which is supposed to lowering BP 10%. Doctors are way too quick to reach for the script pad!

  • I’ve read that you should take your BP 3 times 2-3 minutes apart then average the 3 reading to get a proper reading….is this true?? Why don’t they do this at the Dr office….I’ve asked them to retake my BP at the Dr office and when they do the readings get better.

  • my bp has been ranging between 140– 160/90-120. what do I use, I am 31 years been taking medications though but want try something else.

  • Peter I.

    I just started using high blood pressure medication and purchased a blood pressure meter at age 72. what concerns me is that the BP readings I get have a very wide variance in. I measure every morning as soon as I wake up, while still in bed and prior to having any coffee. I take 3 or 4 readings. I have found that on any given day my reading can vary from 126 to 143 systolic and the diastolic reading from 68 to 87. this wide variance makes it very difficult to track trends. My questions are: is this normal? is my instrument possibly defective? How can my cardiac doctor make a decision to put me on life long medication based on SINGLE reading in his office?

  • Healthy Consumer F.

    This is farce a single reading means nothing
    BP is ideally measured in optimum conditions
    Relaxing over 2 hours
    Repeat every week
    For one month and then conclude

  • BECKYJO

    Peter, I’ve been using a blood pressure meter for nearly 30 years, so my response is based on my personal experience and information I’ve acquired over the years. First, I suggest that you take your meter to the doctor and have them check several readings of your meter against theirs. For example, If your meter consistently shows it’s 10 points lower than the doctor’s, just delete the 10 points from your meter reading (have them check both numbers so you can adjust both as necessary). Also, it’s common that many doctor’s offices take your blood pressure incorrectly (you should actually sit still for 5 minutes, with your feet on the floor and the cuff at the same level as your heart) . Some of us have”white coat” hypertension, so you may always be elevated at the doctor’s office. If you are a large man, you (and your doctor’s office) may need to use a larger cuff as the wrong size of cuff can affect your reading. Also, I spoke with customer service at one of the companies that makes many of the home & professional meters, and she told me that the automated machines are not very accurate if you have kidney disease or heart failure (I have both). Ask the doctor’s staff to always use the manual system and it will be more accurate than those noisy automatic ones.
    As for when to check your blood pressure, the most important thing is to do it consistently the same time of the day (ask the doctor which time he prefers and also what time in relation to taking your medication). The following article has a lot of good information for someone just starting to monitor their blood pressure: https://www.drugs.com/cg/how-to-take-a-blood-pressure.html

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