What is normal blood pressure?

Cat/stress/high blood pressure

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What makes your blood pressure rise? Feel free to answer in the comment box at the end of the page. It may help relieve any stress you’re feeling.

Stress does make your blood pressure go up. That’s because when you’re under stress, your body releases hormones that make your heart beat faster. They also narrow your blood vessels. It’s meant to be a temporary thing.

What causes high blood pressure?

About 85 million people in the United States have high blood pressure. When it’s high, it means blood is flowing through the arteries at a higher than normal pressure. As it flows, it exerts force against the artery walls.

The American Heart Association has a whole list of things that can cause a rise in blood pressure.

Risk factors you can change:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • An unhealthy diet, especially if high in sodium
  • Obesity
  • Overuse of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Stress overload

Risk factors you can’t change:

  • Family history
    • Parents or other close relatives with high blood pressure
  • Age
    • Older you are, greater the risk
  • Gender
    • Until 45, men at greater risk
    • 45 to 64, equal risk
    • 65 and older, women at greater risk
  • Race
    • African-Americans have increased risk

What is normal, what is not?

When you get your blood pressure checked, two things are measured:

  • Systolic Pressure (Left): Blood pressure when the heart is beating
  • Diastolic Pressure (Right): Blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats

Normal Blood Pressure is 120/80 or less

This chart from the American Heart Association shows the different levels and what they mean.

Blood pressure readings

Source: American Heart Association

What can happen if you have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure puts you at risk of developing several serious health problems, including a heart attack or stroke.

AHA High Blood pressure risks

How to lower your blood pressure

When you have prehypertension (or for some people in Stage I,) lifestyle changes can go a long way toward lowering blood pressure. Dr. Brandei Wingard, a cardiologist with Southern Maine Medical Center PrimeCare Cardiology has these recommendations:

  • Reduce the salt in your diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Aim for a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or less

When you’re consistently at Stage 2, your doctor may suggest medication along with lifestyle changes.

If your blood pressure gets higher than 180/110 it’s considered a crisis. Here’s what the heart association says you should do:

If your blood pressure is higher than 180/110 mm Hg and you are NOT experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, changes in vision or difficulty speaking, wait about five minutes and take it again. If the reading is still at or above that level, you should CALL 9-1-1 and get help immediately.

For more information about blood pressure, visit the American Heart Association.

Any questions?

Do you have a question for Catching Health Q & A? Post it in the comment box below or send me an email. Nothing personal, please.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.