Blood Pressure

Why blood pressure is important

Blood pressure (or hypertension) is the pressure of blood flow against the walls of the arteries. Over time, arteries damaged by high blood pressure are more likely to harden and accumulate harmful materials such as cholesterol and plaque. Hypertension also may contribute to organ damage and increase the risk of blood clots.

Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers in a fraction, such as 120/80. Your health care provider will say 120 over 80.€

The top number represents systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure on the arteries when the heart is contracting and pumping blood through the arteries to the organs, tissues and muscles. The bottom number is called diastolic pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest.

Blood Pressure Classifications



Systolic BP (mmHg)


Diastolic BP (mmHg)


Less than 120


Less than 80





Hypertension, Stage 1




Hypertension, Stage 2

Greater than 160


Greater than 100

Blood pressure risk factors

Risk factors for developing hypertension can be related to your family history or your lifestyle, or both. You are more likely to develop high blood pressure if it runs in your family. But it's only one factor. Risk factors over which you have control include the salt in your diet, smoking, being overweight, having an active or sedentary lifestyle, handling stress, the sugar and saturated fat in your diet, and the amount of alcohol you use.

Healthy choices if you don'€™t have hypertension:

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Manage your weight.
  • Exercise regularly (three to five days a week for 20–30 minutes).
  • Limit caffeine.
  • Eat healthy, balanced, low-fat, low-salt meals.
  • Learn to manage stress.
  • Stop smoking or using other tobacco products.
  • Reduce alcohol use.
  • Eliminate trans fats from your diet.

Healthy choices if you do have hypertension:

  • Even if you are taking medication to control your blood pressure, there are other steps you can take to limit the risks of high blood pressure. Follow the lifestyle tips above. Also:
  • Take your blood pressure medication as your health care provider recommends.
  • Monitor your blood pressure at home.
  • Visit your doctor'€™s office regularly to have your blood pressure and medication checked.
  • If you have any medication side effects or other symptoms, report them promptly to your doctor.