Why should I know my blood pressure numbers?
For many Americans, the odds are not good for high blood pressure. You probably know that your blood pressure is important, but do you know how high blood pressure can lead to heart disease? When you have your blood pressure checked, do you know what your numbers actually mean?
Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against Americans:
- One in three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure.
- In Kentucky, about one-third of adults have been told by a health professional that their blood pressure is high.
- Studies show high blood pressure affects Black adults, particularly women, earlier in life. Research shows 3 out of 4 Black adults have high blood pressure.
Why does blood pressure matter?
Many refer to high blood pressure as the “silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms. If left untreated, it can lead to several life-threatening conditions:
- Stroke: Blood pressure weakens arteries throughout the body, creating areas where they can become clogged or burst, causing a stroke.
- Heart attack: The extra strain blood pressure places on arteries in the heart leads to clogging with a plaque (made up of cholesterol and triglycerides) that hardens over time and can cause a heart attack.
- Heart failure: High blood pressure makes your heart work harder. Over time, this extra workload can lead to an enlarged heart. The larger your heart becomes, the harder it is for your heart to meet your body’s need for oxygen and nutrients. The blockages and strain can lead to heart failure.
What blood pressure number is normal?
While there are “normal” ranges for blood pressure, each person is as unique as their numbers. There is a misconception that if you have no symptoms and your blood pressure is only mildly elevated, you are in the clear. Unfortunately, anything over a normal blood pressure level can be causing undue stress on the heart. Long-term high blood pressure weakens the heart muscle, which is why it’s important to know your numbers now, even if you are young.
“As cardiologists, we know that a variety of factors can contribute to a variance in blood pressure numbers. What may be considered ‘normal’ or in a good range for one person may be high or elevated for another,” said Joseph A. Lash, M.D., chief of cardiology for Norton Heart & Vascular Institute. “One thing is certain: We want to see everyone’s blood pressure below 140/90. Anything over this figure, regardless of the reason, needs to be evaluated by a physician.”
What the numbers mean
Knowing your blood pressure numbers can help you and your health care provider work together to keep you healthy.
|Blood pressure||Systolic (top number)
|Diastolic (bottom number)
|Normal||Less than 120||Less than 80|
|Elevated||120 to 129||Less than 80|
|High blood pressure
(hypertension stage 1)
|130 to 139||80 to 89|
|High blood pressure
(hypertension stage 2)
|140 or higher||90 or higher|
(Go to your provider immediately.)
|Higher than 180||and/or||higher than 120|
Normal: Blood pressure is within the normal range. Continue working with your provider to stay within this range.
Elevated: When your readings are consistently in the elevated range, you are at risk for high blood pressure. If you’re in this range, you can make changes to lower your blood pressure.
Hypertension stage 1: In stage 1, your provider likely will prescribe lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, making diet changes and more, based on your health history. Your provider may prescribe a blood pressure medication based on your individual risk for heart disease and stroke.
Hypertension stage 2: In this stage, your provider likely will prescribe blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.
Hypertensive crisis: If your blood pressure readings are suddenly higher than 180/120 mmHg, wait 5 minutes and then test again. If your reading is still high, call your health provider.
If you have any of these signs and your blood pressure is in the crisis range, call 911:
- Severe headache
- Shortness of breath
- Severe anxiety
When blood pressure is in the hypertensive crisis range, it can have severe outcomes:
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory loss
- Heart attack
- Eye and kidney damage
- Lose of kidney function
- A tear in the aorta (aortic dissection)
- Chest pain (angina)
- Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
- Seizures during pregnancy (eclampsia)
Know your numbers!
To determine the blood pressure range that is best for you, schedule an office visit with a health provider. Norton Healthcare has more options to get primary care — you can visit a traditional Norton Community Medical Associates office, a Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens clinic or the new Norton Mobile Primary Care unit, which makes weekly stops in Okolona and West Louisville. Call (502) 629-1234 to get started.