U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Get Your Blood Pressure Checked

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

One in 3 Americans have high blood pressure. Get your blood pressure checked regularly starting at age 18.

How often do I need to get my blood pressure checked?
If you are age 40 or older, or if you are at higher risk for high blood pressure, get your blood pressure checked once a year.

If you are age 18 to 40 and you aren’t at higher risk for high blood pressure, get your blood pressure checked every 3 to 5 years.

What puts me at higher risk for high blood pressure?
You are at higher risk for high blood pressure if you:

  • Are African American
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have blood pressure that’s a little higher than usual (called high normal blood pressure)

Learn more about your risk for high blood pressure.

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.

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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.

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.

If the test shows that your blood pressure is high, ask the doctor what to do next. Blood pressure can go up and down, so you may need to get it checked it more than once.

Can I check my blood pressure by myself?
Yes – you can check your own blood pressure with a blood pressure machine. You can find blood pressure machines in shopping malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores. If the test shows that your blood pressure is high, talk to a doctor.

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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.

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The Basics: High Blood Pressure

What if I have high blood pressure?
If you have high blood pressure, 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].

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Take Action!

Take Action: Get It Checked

Take steps to prevent or lower high blood pressure. To start, get your blood pressure checked as soon as possible.

Check your blood pressure regularly.
Ask a doctor or nurse to check your blood pressure at your next visit.

You can also find blood pressure machines at many shopping malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores. Most of these machines are free to use.

What about the cost of testing?
Blood pressure testing is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get your blood pressure checked by a doctor or nurse at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what's included in your plan. Visit HealthCare.gov for information about other services covered under the Affordable Care Act.

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Take Action: Eat Healthy

Eat less sodium.
Eating less sodium (salt) can lower your blood pressure. Look for foods that say “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.”

When you go food shopping, check the Nutrition Facts label for the Daily Value (DV) of sodium [PDF - 410 KB]. Choose foods with 5% or less of the Daily Value of sodium. Foods with a DV of 20% or more are high in sodium.

Eating more potassium can also help lower your blood pressure. Good sources of potassium include potatoes, cantaloupe, bananas, beans, and yogurt.

Get more tips to:

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Take Action: Get Active

Watch your weight.
A healthy diet and physical activity can help you control your weight – and your blood pressure. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can lower your risk for high blood pressure.

Get active.
Getting regular physical activity can lower your risk of high blood pressure. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate activity, like:

  • Walking fast
  • Dancing
  • Riding bikes
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
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Take Action: Healthy Habits

Drink alcohol only in moderation.
If you choose to drink alcohol, limit your drinking to no more than 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.

Manage your stress.
Managing stress can help prevent and control high blood pressure. Deep breathing and meditation are good ways to relax and manage stress.

Quit smoking.
Smoking damages your heart and blood vessels. Quit smoking to help lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Get tips to quit – for good.

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