1. Is your blood pressure higher than 139/89?

High blood pressure is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher.  Both numbers are important.

About one in every three American adults has high blood pressure. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. The good news is that it can be treated and controlled.

High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms. Some people may not find out they have it until permanent damage to their heart, brain or kidneys has occurred. When high blood pressure is not found and treated, it can cause:

  • the heart to get larger, which may lead to heart failure
  • small bulges (aneurysms) to form in blood vessels; common locations are the main artery from the heart (aorta), arteries in the brain, legs and intestines, and the artery leading to the spleen
  • blood vessels in the kidney to narrow, which may cause kidney failure
  • arteries throughout the body to "harden" faster, especially those in the heart, brain, kidneys and legs; this can cause a heart attackstrokekidney failure or amputation of part of the leg
  • blood vessels in the eyes to burst or bleed, which may cause vision changes and can result in blindness.

What is blood pressure? 

Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Each time the heart beats (about 60-70 times a minute at rest), it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is at its highest when the heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.

Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. Usually they are written one above or before the other, such as 120/80 mmHg. When the two measurements are written down, the systolic pressure is the first or top number, and the diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number (for example, 120/80). If your blood pressure is 120/80, you say that it is "120 over 80."

Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest as you sleep and rises when you wake. It also can rise when you are excited, nervous or active.

Still, for most of your waking hours, your blood pressure stays pretty much the same when you are sitting or standing still. That level should be lower than 120/80. When the average level stays high, 140/90 or higher, then you have high blood pressure.

What is normal blood pressure? 

A blood pressure reading below 120/80 is considered normal. In general, lower is better. However, very low blood pressures can sometimes be a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor. 

Doctors classify blood pressures under 140/90 as either "normal," or "prehypertension."

  • "Normal" blood pressures are lower than 120/80.
  • "Pre-hypertension" includes blood pressure levels between 120 and 139 for the top number, and between 80 and 89 for the bottom number. For example, blood pressure readings of 138/82, 128/89, or 130/86 are all in the "pre-hypertension" range. If your blood pressure is in the pre-hypertension range, it is more likely that you will end up with high blood pressure unless you take action to prevent it.

What is high blood pressure? 

A blood pressure of 140/90 or higher is considered high blood pressure. Both numbers are important. If one or both numbers are usually high, you have high blood pressure. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, you still have high blood pressure even if you have repeated readings in the normal range.

For additional information:

  • Discuss with your physician.
  • Contact Affinity NurseDirect at 1-800-362-9900 toll-free, (920) 738-2230 in the Fox Cities, or (920) 231-6578 in Oshkosh.

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Adapted from: National Heart Lung Blood Institute       
Reviewed: 1/07
Reviewer: rfc

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