Blood pressure basics

Blood pressure is pressure on the walls of your blood vessels as your heart pumps blood through your body.

If your blood vessels become clogged and narrowed, your blood pressure will increase. It may also increase if you are overweight or if you drink too much alcohol.

Some people inherit a tendency toward high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Blood pressure is written as two numbers separated by a slash, such as 120/80. The numbers are often called a blood pressure reading.

The top number shows the maximum pressure on your arteries when your heart contracts and forces blood through your body.

The bottom number shows the minimum pressure on your arteries when your heart relaxes and refills with blood.

Blood pressure goal

The American Diabetes Association recommends a blood pressure under 139/89 for people with diabetes. People who have prediabetes should use the same blood pressure goal as people who have diabetes.

What can help control blood pressure?

If your blood pressure is high, your health care provider may ask you to take a medicine to lower your blood pressure.

Your health care provider may also suggest that you:

  • lose weight
  • eat more fruits, whole grains and vegetables, low-fat or nonfat dairy and lower your fat intake
  • reduce the salt in your diet
  • drink less alcohol
  • get regular exercise

It is important that you get your blood pressure checked each time you visit your health care provider.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure.

The DASH Diet is based on an eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.

For more information, visit and search for "DASH Diet."

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Prediabetes: Reducing Type 2 Diabetes Risk Through a Lifestyle of Good Nutrition and Activity, first edition, dia-ah-94403
Reviewed By: Allina Health Patient Education
First Published: 04/02/2009
Last Reviewed: 01/28/2019