Is Your Blood Pressure Reading Normal?

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Filed Under: Blood Pressure, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Is Your Blood Pressure Reading Normal?

Learn what blood pressure numbers mean and which range your reading falls into

Everyone knows that high blood pressure is directly related to heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. What many people don't realize is that you can feel great and have none of these problems, yet still have elevated blood pressure. This is why a doctor should properly measure your blood pressure on a regular basis.

Here are some guidelines to help you know if your blood pressure may be too high:

What Blood Pressure Numbers Mean

A blood pressure reading gives two numbers (for example, 140/90). The top number is called the systolic pressure. It is the amount of pressure inside the arteries when the heart contracts. The bottom number is called the diastolic pressure. It is the arterial pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.

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What Is a Normal Blood Pressure Reading?

Currently the textbook definition of normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. But the definition of "normal" has changed over the years.

At one time, it was believed that normal systolic blood pressure was 100 plus your age. In the 1970s, intervention wasn't even recommended until pressures exceeded 165/95. Prior to 2003, 140/90 was considered normal.

In 2003, however, a new classification was made. Now a blood pressure of 120/80 is considered normal, and blood pressure readings of 130–139 are considered "pre-hypertension." Readings above 140/90 are considered high blood pressure, and the current thinking is that anyone falling into this category should be taking medication to lower blood pressure.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has suggested the risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced even more by lowering blood pressure in people whose readings are already 120/80 or less. I don't know if the blood pressure guidelines will be lowered again, but it will be interesting to watch how it all plays out.

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Blood Pressure Ranges Chart

As you age, your blood vessels become more rigid, and it's not uncommon for your systolic pressure (the top number) to increase. Although a reading of 120/80 is considered "textbook normal," someone over age 40 can have a 140/90 reading and it can be considered perfectly acceptable. The blood pressure ranges chart below will give you an idea of various blood pressure ranges and the recommended courses of treatment.

 

People Ages 40–60

People Ages 60 and Over

Indications

Systolic Blood Pressure Reading (top number)

140 or below

160 or below

No treatment required. Considered acceptable, although may be a little higher than perfect.

 

140–160

160–180

Considered slightly elevated. Non-drug techniques should be used to help lower it. If your health history warrants it, medication may be necessary.

 

160+   

180+

Considered high blood pressure. Non-drug techniques should be used and if not successful, then medication is necessary.

Diastolic Blood Pressure Reading (bottom number)

90 or below

90 or below

No treatment required. Considered acceptable, although may be a little higher than perfect.

 

90–95

90–99

Considered slightly elevated. Non-drug techniques should be used to help lower it. If your health history warrants it, medication may be necessary.

 

95+

100+

Considered high blood pressure. Non-drug techniques should be used and if not successful, then medication is necessary.

Note: If you're over 70, there may be more contraindications for anti-hypertensive drugs than benefits. Discuss your whether to use them with your doctor.

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More Dr. Williams Advice on Blood Pressure

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