What is considered high blood pressure?

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010

This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

When your health care provider takes your blood pressure reading, he or she compares your blood pressure numbers with a known standard, according to the National Institutes of Health. But that standard may be changing.

What is the standard range for blood pressure?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower (these figures are described below). It wasn’t until your blood pressure reached 140/90 that it was considered high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Now researchers have revised their standards for what is considered high blood pressure, “elevated” blood pressure, and normal blood pressure, according to new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association.

  • Normal blood pressure: less than 120/80
  • Elevated blood pressure: 120-129 / less than 80
  • Stage 1 hypertension (high blood pressure): 130-139 / 80-89
  • Stage 2 hypertension (high blood pressure): 140 or higher / 90 or higher
  • Hypertensive crisis: 180 / 120

If your blood pressure reaches hypertensive crisis level, it means you need a doctor to check whether you have any organ damage or need changes to your medications, according to the ACC.

Why the change in what is considered high blood pressure?

The ACC and American Heart Association say the new guideline will encourage doctors and patients to do something about high blood pressure before it becomes a serious problem – a step called “early intervention.” You might not even need to take medications to control your high blood pressure; sometimes lifestyle changes can correct the problem, according to the ACC.

What do the high blood pressure numbers mean?

Let’s use a number that’s considered high blood pressure according to the American College of Cardiology: 135/86. The top number (135 in this example) is the systolic pressure, measured as your heart beats and pushes blood through your veins, notes the National Institutes of Health. The bottom number (86 in this example) is the diastolic pressure, measured as your heart rests between beats. The unit involved is millimeters of mercury, according to a Harvard Medical School newsletter.

What do the new high blood pressure standards mean for you?

Now that researchers have changed the number that’s considered high blood pressure, it might mean that you have high blood pressure now, even if your blood pressure numbers put you in “normal” range last time you saw your doctor.

Of course, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), your blood pressure numbers can change many times a day – that’s normal. But suppose you usually checked in at around 135/86, as in the above example. By the new standards, that would be considered high blood pressure (specifically Stage 1 hypertension).

The new standard means that about half of Americans will be considered to have high blood pressure, the American College of Cardiology estimates.

Does this mean you’ll have to take medications if you have high blood pressure? Not necessarily, notes the NIH. Sometimes lifestyle changes are enough. Talk to your doctor about a treatment plan for you if you have high blood pressure.

Whether or not you have high blood pressure, you might be interested to know what Medicare plan options are available where you live.

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