Normal Versus Abnormal Blood Pressure Readings

An opened blood pressure monitor box next to the actual monitor and cuff

Blood pressure measurements provide important information to your doctor about your current health and how your heart health has changed over time.

Knowing how to read blood pressure numbers and understanding what they mean is an essential part of taking charge of your health.

Interpreting the Reading

A diagram of two hearts. The illustration on the left represents diastolic pressure and shows low, normal, and high numbers. The illustration on the right shows systolic blood pressure and low, normal, and high numbers.

As your heart beats, your blood moves through your veins, creating pressure against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure readings measure the force during the different phases of your heartbeat (the beat and the moment in between when your heart “rests”).

Your blood pressure consists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic.

Top Number: Systolic Pressure

The top number represents the systolic pressure, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.

Bottom Number: Diastolic Pressure

The bottom number represents the diastolic pressure, or the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

What Is a “Normal” Blood Pressure Reading?

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, abbreviated mm/Hg. While readings vary by person, anything below 120/80 mm/Hg is typically considered normal.

What Qualifies a Reading as “Abnormal”?

A diagram/chart showing normal, elevated, Hypertension Stage I, Hypertension Stage II, and Hypertensive Crisis systolic and diastolic ranges

Blood pressure can be too low (hypotension) or too high (hypertension).

Blood pressure is considered low when the systolic number is below 90, and the diastolic number is less than 60.

Likewise, high or elevated blood pressure is typically categorized by systolic readings between 120 and 129.

What to Do If You Have an Abnormal Reading

Note: If your blood pressure reading indicates a hypertensive crisis, seek emergency care immediately.

If you take your blood pressure and it’s not in the normal range, follow these steps:

  1. Retake your blood pressure in a few minutes. Stress, anxiety, and physical activity all impact blood pressure readings.
  2. If your readings are abnormal but don’t indicate a crisis, monitor it over the next few days. Keep a journal of the readings and the date and time you took them. Take your blood pressure reading around the same time of day for accuracy. Keep in mind that blood pressure tends to be higher when working, after exercising, in cooler weather, and after taking certain allergy medications.
  3. If the readings are consistently abnormal, contact your medical provider for an appointment. Lifestyle changes, medication, or further testing might be necessary.

Lifestyle Factors & Conditions That Influence Your Blood Pressure

Multiple factors can influence your blood pressure. Some people have a naturally higher or lower baseline than others, so identifying a pattern is helpful. Factors within your control include:

  • Diet: High salt intake can raise blood pressure. If you have hypertension, your doctor may recommend a low-sodium diet.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity is associated with healthy blood pressure.
  • Stress: Stress reduction techniques, such as breathing exercises and medication, can help manage stress-related high blood pressure.
  • Smoking & Alcohol: Quitting smoking and reducing or quitting alcohol will greatly improve your blood pressure.
  • Sleep: Conditions like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea are associated with high blood pressure.

Signs & Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure is lower than normal, you may experience:

  • Blurred vision or other visual disturbances
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Nausea

Signs & Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Often, people with elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension don’t experience any symptoms at all, which is why it’s important to know how to read blood pressure numbers and see your medical provider regularly for check-ups. However, a sudden high blood pressure or a hypertensive crisis can cause the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nosebleeds
  • Severe anxiety
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vision problems

How Often Should You Check Your Blood Pressure?

You should check your blood pressure at least once per year. Your medical provider may recommend that you check it more frequently if you have hypertension.

Your medical provider will track your blood pressure during routine visits, so schedule and attend regular check-ups. If you are experiencing symptoms of low or high blood pressure, schedule a visit with your provider to help rule out external factors that can lead to inaccurate readings.

As mentioned earlier, if you have elevated blood pressure or hypertension, you may need to monitor your blood pressure more frequently. Your doctor may provide you with a home blood pressure monitor so that you can measure and track your blood pressure readings over time to determine whether you need additional interventions.

Again, when taking your blood pressure readings, take them at the same time every day since blood pressure can vary around 30 to 50 mm/Hg throughout the day (individuals with hypertension may experience even more variations throughout the day).

Manage Your Wellness at Total Health Systems

Total Health Systems is a multidisciplinary wellness center providing a wide range of primary care services, including preventative examinations, custom blood labs, and general diagnostic testing.

If you have questions or concerns, our primary care team is ready to help. Please visit our website today to schedule your annual check-up.

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