What Is High Blood Pressure By The Numbers?
More than 122 million people in the United States have high blood pressure. That’s nearly half of the adults 20 years old and older, according to a 2023 report from the American Heart Association. Those numbers could be even higher since many adults may not realize that they have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
A recent study found that most Americans do not know the normal or healthy range for blood pressure—even though they think they do. Unfortunately, this false confidence may prevent people from getting care for stage 1 hypertension, according to the study published in January in the journal Medical Decision Making.
The survey involved more than 6,500 adults. Some had hypertension, while others had hypertension and other health conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. According to the survey, 64 percent of respondents said they were confident in their knowledge of understanding blood pressure numbers, but only 36 percent actually knew the numbers for normal/healthy blood pressure.
“Such false confidence can be harmful because it may prevent people from seeking care for high blood pressure,” the study’s co-authors, Wandi Bruine de Bruin and Dr. Mark Huffman wrote in an article for The Conversation. “After all, if you think it’s normal, why bother talking to your doctor about your blood pressure?”
Bruine de Bruin is a professor of Public Policy, Psychology, and Behavioral Science at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. Dr. Huffman is a professor of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
Measurement and Stages of Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Hypertension is measured in units of millimeters of mercury (mmHg). This type of measurement comes from early blood pressure monitors that look at how far a patient’s blood pressure can push a column of liquid mercury.
High blood pressure occurs when your blood pressure is consistently too high. Older adults are subject to having high blood pressure since arteries get stiffer with age which causes blood pressure to go up.
Blood pressure is measured as two numbers:
- • Systolic blood pressure (the first and higher number) measures the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats.
• Diastolic blood pressure (the second and lower number) measures the pressure in your arteries when the heart rests between beats.
How healthcare providers treat hypertension depends on the stage their patients are in, and the stages are based on the results of blood pressure readings. According to the American Heart Association, there are five main blood pressure ranges:
The normal/healthy blood pressure is a level less than 120/80 mmHg.
The levels of elevated blood pressure range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mmHg diastolic. Unless action is taken to control the condition, people at this stage are prone to develop high blood pressure.
3. Stage 1
Stage 1 hypertension is the lower stage of high blood pressure. Blood pressure levels consistently range from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mmHg diastolic.
4. Stage 2
The blood pressure level at this stage consistently ranges from 140/90 mmHg or higher.
5. Hypertensive crisis
When blood pressure readings exceed 180/120 mmHg, the American Heart Association recommends waiting five minutes and then testing your blood pressure again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately or dial 9-1-1. A hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency that can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening condition.
10 Tips Toward a Healthier Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can be managed and even lowered with help from medication and making lifestyle changes. The American Heart Association offers ten tips on how to develop healthier blood pressure:
- • Talk with your doctor about how you can lower your mood pressure and track your blood pressure at home.
• Eat a heart-healthy diet. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, and fish are all good for the heart. However, ultra-processed foods, red meat, and saturated and trans fats are not good for your heart.
• Reduce your salt intake. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is less than one teaspoon. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams daily, well over the recommended about of salt intake.
• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases your blood pressure level. If you choose to drink, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women have one drink a day at the very most and men have two drinks per day at most. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
• Become more physically active. Just two-and-a-half hours per week of physical activity, such as swimming, lifting weights, dancing, or walking for 30 minutes five days a week, can help lower blood pressure.
• Maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight can bring their blood pressure down by losing a few pounds.
• Manage stress. While reducing your stress level may not lower your blood pressure, it can help you feel better.
• Stop smoking and vaping. Both contribute to high blood pressure and are bad for your heart.
• Take medication. If you have stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension, your doctor may recommend taking medication. Most patients need two to three medications to lower blood pressure to normal or healthy levels.
• Keep track of your blood pressure at home. The American Heart Association recommends using an automatic, validated cuff-style monitor that goes on your upper arm. Recording your readings over time can assist your doctor in adjusting your treatments as needed.
A routine part of a doctor’s visit is having your blood pressure checked. In fact, your blood pressure is usually taken before you see your doctor. However, after the inflatable cuff comes off your arm, there’s no guarantee that the nurse will tell you your blood pressure reading unless you ask.
Once you know your reading, Bruine de Bruin and Dr. Huffman recommend talking with your doctor about your blood pressure during every visit and finding out what the numbers mean. In this way, you will not have false confidence in your numbers.
Discovering high blood pressure as early as possible since hypertension is often called the “silent killer” and can lead to heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, all of which can be fatal.
“High blood pressure usually has no symptoms,” said Bruins de Bruin wrote. “So it is important to have your blood pressure tested and to take action if it’s too high.”