Your health and safety is our top priority. Get COVID-19 info, vaccine news and see our limited-visitor policy.

What’s High Blood Pressure? See the New Numbers

Blood pressure. It’s a set of numbers many of us keep close track of. Blood pressure measures the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart beats.

Your systolic pressure is the upper number — the pressure when your heart beats. Your diastolic pressure is the lower number — the pressure when your heart is resting between beats.

If you haven’t had a problem with high blood pressure (hypertension) previously, you should be aware that the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have issued revised blood pressure guidelines.


New Blood Pressure Guidelines

The guidelines redefine what’s considered high blood pressure. This condition is sometimes called the silent killer because it usually has no warning signs but can lead to life-threatening conditions such as stroke or heart attack.

The blood pressure guidelines now say: High blood pressure is defined as readings of 130 mm Hg and higher for the systolic blood pressure, or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. (Note: mm Hg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.) The guidelines now reflect health complications that can occur even at the lower blood pressure numbers.

The redefinitions are a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher as high blood pressure.

The change means about 46 percent of adults in the U.S. now meet the guidelines for high blood pressure. Under the old guidelines, 32 percent of adults met the high-blood-pressure guidelines. However, the researchers expect only a small increase in the number of people who will require medication for high blood pressure. Many with blood pressure that’s included in the redefined high blood pressure guidelines can treat their condition with lifestyle changes.


New Blood Pressure Categories

The new guidelines layout five categories:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Elevated: Top number (systolic) between 120-129 and bottom number (diastolic) less than 80.
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89.
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg.
  • Hypertensive crisis: Top number over 180 and/or bottom number over 120. These patients need prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems. They may require immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.

The new guidelines eliminate the category of prehypertension, which was used for blood pressures with a top number (systolic) between 120-139 mm Hg or a bottom number (diastolic) between 80-89 mm Hg. People with those readings now will be categorized as having either Elevated (120-129 and less than 80) or Stage I hypertension (130-139 or 80-89).

Previous guidelines classified 140/90 mm Hg as Stage 1 hypertension. This level is classified as Stage 2 hypertension under the new guidelines.

Young people should pay special attention to the new guidelines. The number of individuals with blood pressure considered high could triple among young men under age 45. Young women under 45 could see double the number of high blood pressure diagnoses.


Tips for Accurate Blood Pressure Measurement

The new guidelines also remind people that using proper technique to measure blood pressure is vital. Blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two or three readings on at least two different occasions.

And ask how to monitor your blood pressure at home. Using the correct technique and blood pressure device will give you an accurate measurement that’s less affected by factors such as being at the doctor’s office. Some people have a blood pressure increase when they’re at the doctor’s office.

If you have high blood pressure, ask your health care provider about steps you can take to control it. The steps may include:

  • Eating healthfully
  • Increasing your physical activity
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Managing stress

Your health care provider can give you more guidance tailored to your situation. 

Meet the Author

Bijoy K. Khandheria, MD is a Cardiologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI. He is also the Medical Director of Global Health and Executive Program at Aurora St. Luke's. Dr. Khandheria has published over 200 papers in peer reviewed journal and co-edited 3 books.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

Get engaging health and wellness insights emailed to you daily.

Check it out now

Recent Posts

Know the Difference: Heart Attack vs. Heart Failure

Surprising Heart Health Risks of 1 Cigarette a Day

8 Ways to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Find a Doctor Find a Location


Vaccine Update

We’re now vaccinating anyone 12 and older in Illinois and Wisconsin.