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Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. It's a vital part of how our heart and circulation work. Your blood pressure naturally goes up and down, adjusting to your heart's needs depending on what you are doing. Various factors that will affect your blood pressure include breathing, exercise, sleep, emotional state and even your body position.

High blood pressure is medically known as hypertension and low blood pressure is known as hypotension. If your blood pressure remains high it can lead to serious problems like heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney disease if left untreated.

There are often no symptoms associated with high blood pressure. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly by your doctor.

Measuring Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is usually measured by wrapping an inflatable pressure cuff around your upper arm. This cuff is part of a machine called a sphygmomanometer. It is best to measure your blood pressure when you are relaxed and sitting.

Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, for example 120/80 (120 over 80) and is measured in units called millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The larger number, or systolic blood pressure, indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps out blood during each beat. The lower number, or diastolic blood pressure, indicates the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat.

The following chart outlines what is considered normal range and what is considered high range blood pressure:

BP Category Systolic
mm Hg (upper no.)
  Diastolic
mm Hg (lower no.)
Normal Less than 120 and Less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 or 80-89
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
140-159 or 90-99
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
160 or higher or 100 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis
(Emergency care needed)
Higher than 180 or Higher than 110

Risk Factors

You will be more at risk of suffering from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease if you:

  • smoke.
  • are overweight.
  • are physically inactive.
  • have diabetes.
  • have high cholesterol.
  • are socially isolated.
  • have depression.

Managing High Blood Pressure

Lifestyle changes are very important to help manage high blood pressure and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease if you:

  • maintain a healthy weight.
  • are physically active.
  • limit your alcohol intake.
  • quit smoking.
  • decrease your salt/sodium intake.
  • increase your potassium intake by eating a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, plain unsalted nuts and legumes.

Some people may also need medicine to manage high blood pressure, but it is still important for them to make lifestyle changes too.