You can learn your blood pressure measurement as soon as your test is over. A blood pressure reading, given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), has two numbers. The first, or top, number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats (systolic pressure). The second, or bottom, number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure).

Here's a look at the four blood pressure categories and what they mean. If your readings fall into two different categories, your correct blood pressure category is the higher one.

Top number (systolic) in mm Hg   Bottom number (diastolic) in mm Hg Your category*
Below 90 or Below 60 Low blood pressure** (hypotension)
Below 120 and Below 80 Normal blood pressure
120-139 or 80-89 Prehypertension
140-159 or 90-99 Stage 1 hypertension
160 or more or 100 or more Stage 2 hypertension

*Ranges may be lower for children and teenagers. Talk to your child's doctor if you think your child might have high blood pressure.
**What's considered low blood pressure can vary from person to person. The numbers given are a general guideline.

Prehypertension and stages 1 and 2 hypertension

If your blood pressure test shows that you have higher than normal blood pressure, your doctor will recommend that you make lifestyle changes to try to lower your blood pressure. These changes can include:

  • Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. A lower sodium level — 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day — is appropriate for people 51 years of age or older, and individuals of any age who are African-American or who have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Otherwise healthy people can aim for 2,300 mg a day or less. While you can reduce the amount of salt you eat by putting down the saltshaker, you should also pay attention to the amount of salt that's in the processed foods you eat, such as canned soups or frozen dinners.
  • Eat healthy foods. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. Eat less saturated fat and total fat.
  • Quit smoking. You should also try to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Lose weight. If you're overweight, losing even 5 pounds can lower your blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure and keep your weight under control. Strive for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week.
  • Limit alcohol. Even if you're healthy, alcohol can raise your blood pressure. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation — up to one drink a day for women and everyone over age 65, and two drinks a day for men.

If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough, or if you have stage 2 hypertension, your doctor may recommend medications to help lower your blood pressure. Your doctor will discuss which medication options might work best for you.

Low blood pressure

Low blood pressure that either doesn't cause signs or symptoms, or causes only mild symptoms, such as brief episodes of dizziness when standing, rarely requires treatment. If you do have symptoms, the best treatment depends on the underlying cause.

Jun. 08, 2012