What Do Those Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?


Blood pressure is shown as two numbers--the systolic pressure (the top number) as the heart is beating and the diastolic (the bottom number) pressure between heartbeats. Both numbers are important. 

What is blood pressure--and when is it high? Blood pressure is the amount of force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. Everyone has to have some blood pressure, so that blood can get to the body's organs and muscles. Usually, blood pressure is expressed as two numbers, such as 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Depending on your activities, blood pressure may rise or fall in the course of a day. Blood pressure is considered high when it stays above 140/90 mmHg over a period of time.

High blood pressure is called the "silent killer" because most people who have it do not feel sick. That means it is important to have it checked regularly. Because blood pressure changes often, your doctor or other health professional should check it on several different days before deciding if your blood pressure is too high.

A reminder: If you are taking medication to control high blood pressure, be sure to take it exactly as your doctor has prescribed it. Blood pressure medicine must be taken in the right amounts and at the right times in order to work properly.


Blood Pressure Level in mmHg

*Legend - 'less than' is represented by the < symbol and 'more than' is represented by the > symbol.*





Optimal B/P

< 120


< 80

Normal B/P

< 130


< 85

High-normal B/P





Stage 1




Stage 2




Stage 3





High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and the most important risk factor for stroke and heart failure. Heart failure is a severe condition in which the heart cannot adequately supply the body with blood. High blood pressure causes three of every five cases of heart failure in women. High blood pressure also boosts the chances of developing kidney disease and blindness. Older women have a higher risk of high blood pressure, with more than half of all women over age 55 suffering from this condition.