Understanding and Tracking Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is an important part of everyone’s health, because high blood pressure contributes to many forms of cardiovascular diseases. It benefits everyone to understand and monitor their blood pressure.

Blood pressure (BP) measures the force of the blood pushing outwards on the walls of your arteries. It rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. It can change from minute to minute with changes in posture, activity, stress or sleep. It increases with age.

A BP reading consists of two numbers, for example: 120/80 mm Hg.

One number is always larger and refers to systolic BP, the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. The smaller number refers to diastolic BP, the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats and refills with blood.

About one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure (HBP). By 2030, it is expected that over 41 percent of U.S. adults will have it. Normal BP for adults age 20 or over is no higher than 120/80 mm Hg.

One blood pressure reading only tells you what your blood pressure is at that moment. A record of readings taken over time provides a “time-lapse” picture of your blood pressure that you can show your doctor to ensure that your treatments are lowering your BP. You can find an easy-to-use BP tracker at our Check. Change. Control.® website.

Monitoring your BP at home is as easy as buying a BP cuff, using it correctly and tracking the numbers. Here are some tips for what to look for in a home blood pressure monitor.

See our handy Blood Pressure Measurement Instructions infographic below the video for more tips for getting your most accurate blood pressure readings. You can also download a PDF the graphic.


Infographic transcript: 

Blood Pressure Measurement Instructions

Don't smoke, exercise, drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol within 30 minutes of measurement. 

Rest in a chair for at least 5 minutes with your left arm resting comfortably on a flat surface at heart level. Sit calmly and don't talk. 

Make sure you're relaxed. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor with your back straight and supported.

Take at least two readings 1 minute apart in the morning before taking medications, and in the evening before dinner. Record all results. 

Use properly calibrated and validated instrument, check the cuff size and fit. 

Place the bottom of the cuff above the bend of the elbow.

American Heart Association recommended blood pressure levels

Blood Pressure Category Systolic (mm Hg)   Diastolic (mm Hg)
Normal less than 120  and  less than 80
Elevated 120-129  and less than 80
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1 130-139  or 80-89
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2 140 or higher  or 90 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis Higher than 180 and/or Higher than 120


Blood pressure higher than 180/120 mm Hg is an emergency.*

*Wait a few minutes and take blood pressure again. If it's still that high, contact your doctor immediately. 

Learn more at heart.org/hbp

Copyright 2017 American Heart Association, Inc. All rights reserved.

Updated: 6/20/2018 Updated infographic and infographic transcript

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