Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults

Image for hypertension articleIf you believe you have low or normal blood pressure, you may be off the mark. You might have prehypertension. The information below will help you find out where you stand and what you can do to control your blood pressure if you have prehypertension.

CategorySystolic blood pressure (mmHg)Diastolic blood pressure (mmHg)Lifestyle changes advisedDrugs usually recommended
NormalLess than 120Less than 80EncouragedNo
Stage 1 hypertension140-15990-99YesYes
Stage 2 hypertension160 or more100 or moreYesYes
Modified from Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. JAMA. 2003;289:2560-2572.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is diagnosed when a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or greater is noted. The level must be seen on at least two readings to be officially diagnosed. The upper number is the systolic pressure when your heart contracts. The lower number is the diastolic pressure when your heart relaxes.

Prehypertension Risk

Prehypertensive patients are more likely to develop full-blown hypertension. They are also more likely to develop associated health problems. Heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness are all associated with hypertension.

Studies indicate cardiovascular risk increases as blood pressure rises above 115/75 mmHg. In fact, your risk doubles with every 20 mmHg rise in systolic pressure or with every 10 mmHg rise in diastolic pressure.

Who Should Get Screened?

According to the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, everyone should have a blood pressure check at least once every two years. If your blood pressure is above normal (that is, higher than 120/80 mmHg), your doctor may recommend that you have it rechecked more often. People at increased risk for hypertension may also need more frequent readings. Risk factors include a family history of the condition, African American race, above-normal weight, or age greater than 50.

Prehypertension Treatment

Unlike hypertension, prehypertension treatment does not usually include drugs. The mainstay of therapy for prehypertension is lifestyle changes. These changes can help to slow or prevent progression to hypertension. The National High Blood Pressure Education Program recommends:

  • Lose excess weight. Studies show that each 10 pounds of weight loss is associated with an average drop in systolic blood pressure of up to about 10 millimeters of mercury.
  • Increase physical activity to at least 30 minutes most days of the week. First get your doctor’s approval if you’re not accustomed to exercise.
  • Eat a healthful diet. Daily food intake should be low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.
  • Reduce salt intake to no more than 2.4 grams of sodium (the equivalent of about a teaspoon of table salt) a day.
  • Limit alcohol use. This meaning no more than two drinks a day for men or one for women.