The Basics: Overview
Check your blood pressure at least every 2 years starting at age 18. It’s important to check your blood pressure often, especially if you are over age 40.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is how hard your blood pushes against the walls of your arteries when your heart pumps blood.
Arteries are the tubes that carry blood away from your heart. Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through your arteries to the rest of your body.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension (“hy-puhr-TEHN-shun”) is the medical term for high blood pressure. High blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get tested.
By taking steps to lower your blood pressure, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Lowering your blood pressure can help you live a longer, healthier life.
The Basics: What Is Blood Pressure?
How can I get my blood pressure checked?
To test your blood pressure, a nurse or doctor will put a cuff around your upper arm and pump up the cuff with air until it feels tight. Then the nurse or doctor will slowly let the air out.
This usually takes less than a minute. The nurse or doctor can tell you what your blood pressure numbers are right after the test is over.
You can also check your own blood pressure with a blood pressure machine. You can find blood pressure machines in shopping malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores.
The Basics: How It's Measured
What do blood pressure numbers mean?
A blood pressure test measures how hard your heart is working to pump blood through your body.
Blood pressure is measured with 2 numbers. The first number is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is the pressure in your arteries between each beat, when your heart relaxes.
Compare your blood pressure to these numbers:
- Normal blood pressure is lower than 120/80 (said “120 over 80”).
- High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.
- Blood pressure that’s between normal and high (for example, 130/85) is called prehypertension (“PREE-hy-puhr-tehn-shun”), or high normal blood pressure.
The Basics: Am I at Risk?
Am I at risk for high blood pressure?
One in 3 Americans has high blood pressure. As you get older, your risk of high blood pressure increases. You are also at higher risk for high blood pressure if you:
- Are overweight or obese
- Are African American
- Have a family history of high blood pressure
- Eat foods high in sodium (salt)
- Get less than 30 minutes of physical activity on most days
These things may also increase your risk of high blood pressure:
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Having chronic (ongoing) stress
Learn more about your risk for high blood pressure.
The Basics: Pregnancy
How can high blood pressure affect pregnancy?
High blood pressure can be dangerous for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. If you have high blood pressure and you want to get pregnant, it’s important to take steps to lower your blood pressure first.
Sometimes, women get high blood pressure for the first time during pregnancy. This is called gestational (“jes-TAY-shon-al”) hypertension. Usually, this type of high blood pressure goes away after the baby is born.
If you have high blood pressure while you are pregnant, be sure to visit your doctor regularly.
The Basics: High Blood Pressure
What if I have high blood pressure?
If you have high blood pressure, talk to a doctor. You may need medicine to control your blood pressure.
Print out this list of questions to ask your doctor about blood pressure.
Take these steps to lower your blood pressure:
Small changes can add up. For example, losing just 10 pounds can help lower your blood pressure.
To learn more, check out this guide to lowering high blood pressure [PDF - 269 KB].