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High blood pressure

Blood pressure is the amount of pressure within the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers:


High blood pressure is known as a "silent" killer because it often has no symptoms. Have your health care team check your blood pressure often.

  • The first (top) number is the systolic blood pressure. It measures the amount of pressure within the walls of your blood vessels during heartbeats. (When your heart is pumping.)
  • The second (bottom) number is the diastolic blood pressure. It measures the amount of pressure within the walls of your blood vessels between heartbeats. (When your heart is resting.)

Your blood pressure is written with the systolic number above the diastolic number (such as 120/80). A reading of 140/90 or greater is considered high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).

High blood pressure can have a few different causes, any of which cause increased pressure against artery walls:

Did you know?

Nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure.

(Source: American Heart Association)

  • a narrowing of the arteries (artherosclerosis or temporary constriction)
  • a greater than normal volume of blood
  • the heart beating faster or more forcefully than it should
  • heredity (your family history)
  • kidney disorders
  • eating too much salt
  • certain medicines
  • rare tumors and other diseases.

If not found and treated, high blood pressure can cause:

Did you know?

Guidelines call for treating high blood pressure earlier. Your doctor may want you to have treatment if you are in the borderline range (120/80 to 140/90). Treatment will include a low-sodium diet and exercise.

  • heart failure
  • heart attack
  • kidney failure
  • aneurysms (small bulges) in blood vessels
  • vision changes and blindness
  • stroke.

Blood pressure levels in adults

If you have high blood pressure, follow your health care team's instructions. Although high blood pressure cannot be cured, it can be managed. Your health care team may have you:

  • lower the sodium in your diet
  • get regular exercise
  • decrease the amount of alcohol you drink
  • stop smoking
  • take medicine to lower your blood pressure.

Your target blood pressure

Systolic (top): ____

Diastolic (bottom):____

Have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Ask your health care team what your target blood pressure should be.

Blood pressure level chart



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts