Patient Resources

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels.

This force is normally present with every heartbeat as the blood travels through your body. This force (pressure) is needed to carry blood to all the organs in your body, such as your kidneys, brain, stomach, arms, and legs.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means that the pressure in your blood vessels stays higher than normal.

If your blood pressure stays high, it can become dangerous to your body.

Even as a young adult, high blood pressure can raise your risk of having serious health problems including a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, or heart failure.

Taking steps to lower your blood pressure will help you live a healthier and longer life.

What do the Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

Every blood pressure has two numbers and can be written in two ways:

The top number (118) is the systolic blood pressure. The systolic blood pressure is the force in the blood vessels when the heart squeezes during a heartbeat.

The bottom number (72) is the diastolic blood pressure. The diastolic blood pressure is the force in the blood vessels when the heart is resting between heart beats. The symbol "mmHg" is read as "millimeters of mercury."

Four blood pressure categories for adults

Even if you do not have high blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to lower your blood pressure.


Your top number (systolic) is less than 120 mmHg and your bottom number (diastolic) is less than 80 mmHg.

Your top number (systolic) is between 120 and 139 mmHg or your bottom number (diastolic) is between 80 and 89 mmHg.

Your blood pressure is in the "borderline" range. You are at high risk of developing high blood pressure (also called "hypertension").

Your top number (systolic) is between 140 and 159 mmHg or your bottom number (diastolic) is between 90 and 99 mmHg.

You have high blood pressure (hypertension). Sometimes this level of high blood is called "mildly high." You are still at risk of having damage to your body from the high pressure.

Your top number (systolic) is at least 160 mmHg or higher or your bottom number (diastolic) is at least 100 mmHg or higher.

You have high blood pressure (hypertension). You are at risk of having damage to your body from the high pressure against your blood vessels – including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or kidney disease.

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is very common. About 1 in 3 of all adults have high blood pressure in the United States. Almost 1 in 15 young adults (18-39 year-olds) have high blood pressure.

Many people do not know they have high blood pressure. The only way to know if your blood pressure is high is to have it checked at least once a year.

If you are told that your blood pressure is high, it is important to be seen at a medical clinic to learn how to lower your blood pressure.

Everyone is at risk for high blood pressure. Blood pressure increases as you get older.

You may be at risk for developing high blood pressure at a younger age if:

  • Your family members have high blood pressure. You smoke cigarettes. (See Quit Smoking)
  • You are overweight. Find out more about your body weight with this CDC body mass index calculator.
  • You are African-American or of African descent. Some race/ethnicities have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • You have diabetes. High blood sugar damages the blood vessels and makes it harder for your body to keep the blood pressure in the normal range
  • You do not exercise regularly. Regular exercise is important for everyone! Exercise can relax your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.
  • You have a high sodium (high salt) diet. A diet high in sodium (salt) can raise your blood pressure.
  • You consume too much alcohol. (See Limit Alcohol)
  • You have high stress. Always being under stress can cause your blood pressure to remain high. You and your blood vessels need time to relax. (See Manage Stress)
  • You have sleep apnea. Have you been told that you snore or stop breathing when you sleep? You may have sleep apnea which can cause high blood pressure. Consider talking to your doctor about a sleep study.
  • You have kidney disease. Some kidney conditions can cause high blood pressure.

Does pregnancy increase my risk of high blood pressure?

Some conditions that can happen during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, can increase your blood pressure, sometimes to dangerous levels. Learn about warning signs of preeclampsia from the Preeclampsia Foundation.

Learn more about preeclampsia in this interview with Dr. Kara Hoppe:


Also available on Apple Podcasts / Spotify

Does my risk of high blood pressure increase after pregnancy and delivery?

Listen to this interview with Dr. Kara Hoppe to learn more about chronic hypertension and pregnancy:


Also available on Apple Podcasts / Spotify

Will I feel something if my blood pressure is high?

Most people do not feel anything when their blood pressure is high. Over time, high blood pressure (hypertension) can damage your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys even without warning signs or symptoms. That is why high blood pressure is called the "Silent Killer."

Since most people will not have symptoms with high blood pressure, it is important for everyone to have their blood pressure checked regularly. For more information about how and where to get your blood pressure checked, see How can I check my blood pressure?

Some people may have these symptoms when they have high blood pressure:

  • Headache
  • chest discomfort
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • breathing problems
  • eye discomfort

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to a healthcare provider. If you think you are having a medical emergency, call 911.

Other symptoms may be warning signs of a stroke. You should call 911 immediately if you have any of these symptoms:

  • trouble speaking or understanding
  • loss of balance or control
  • face drooping, numbness or weakness, especially on one side of your body

See the American Stroke Association website for additional information about stroke warning signs and symptoms.

Who can check my blood pressure?

Many people have their blood pressure checked at a doctor's office. A pharmacist at your local drug store or pharmacy can also check your blood pressure.

Blood pressure checks should not cause bruising or severe pain. A correct-sized cuff will be wrapped around your upper arm. Air will be pumped into the cuff, it will squeeze your arm tightly, and then the air will be slowly let out.

Sometimes your blood pressure will be checked with an automatic blood pressure machine. Other times, the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist will listen to your heartbeat and watch the monitor to measure your blood pressure manually.

Home blood pressure monitoring

If you participate in the Staying Healthy After Childbirth program, you will be provided with a home blood pressure monitor. Prior to going home from the hospital, one of our program’s medical assistants will teach you how to correctly take your blood pressure. Your upper arm will be measured, so we can send you home with the correct size of blood pressure cuff.

In the 30 minutes before you take your blood pressure, do not exercise, eat a large meal, or use products containing caffeine or nicotine, such as coffee, tea, or cigarettes. If you are on blood pressure medications, please time your blood pressure reading to be about 60 to 90 minutes after your morning blood pressure medications. We use this value to ensure correct dosing of your blood pressure medications, and we can increase or decrease your dosing based on this after-medication value.

Prior to sitting down to take your blood pressure, you should empty your bladder. Sit at a table, such as a dining room table, on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your legs uncrossed.

Place your blood pressure cuff on your left arm, as this arm is more accurate, unless otherwise instructed by the nurse. The cuff should be on your skin without any clothing in between the cuff and your arm, and should be just above the bend of your arm. It should be snug around your arm, but not too tight.

Your arm should be rested on the table about at the level of your heart with your palm facing up. Do not tense your arm or take your blood pressure while feeling anxious. Leave your arm relaxed and rested on the table. Make sure to rest for 5-10 minutes quietly prior to taking your blood pressure.

Watch this video for more information on how to take your blood pressure at home and (if applicable) share blood pressure readings with the Staying Healthy After Childbirth team: