Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) by the Numbers

If you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, youíre at an increased risk of heart disease. But just how high do your numbers have to go before you face health risks? And is there anything you can do to lower high blood pressure? Here are 9 blood pressure numbers you should know, and five tips for reaching (and maintaining) healthy blood pressure levels.

80 million: Number of U.S. adults with high blood pressure.

120: What your systolic blood pressure (the top number when you get your blood pressure checked) should be under, according to the American Heart Association. Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. If youíre 60 years old or older, this number can be a little higher, maybe up to 150, says Richard Krasuski, MD, a cardiologist with Cleveland Clinicís Heart and Vascular Institute.

You have prehypertension if the systolic blood pressure is 120 to 139, high blood pressure stage 1 if it is 140 to 159, and high blood pressure stage 2 if itís 160 or higher. If your systolic blood pressure is 180 or higher, you are considered to be in hypertensive crisis and in need of emergency medical care, according to the American Heart Association.

80: What your diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure should be under, according to the American Heart Association. Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, when the heart muscle is resting and refilling with blood. A diastolic reading of 80 to 89 indicates prehypertension, a reading of 90 to 99 indicates hypertension stage 1, and a reading of 100 or higher indicates hypertension stage 2. If your diastolic blood pressure is higher than 110, you are in hypertensive crisis.

13: Percent increase in the number of high blood pressure-related deaths between 2001 and 2011.

41: Percentage of U.S. adults expected to have high blood pressure by 2030.

2: Number of medications that it typically takes to get high blood pressure under controlóthough some experts put the number at three, says Krasuski. "Often, a patient who is prescribed medication for high blood pressure will be put on a beta blocker, an ace inhibitor, and a diuretic," he adds.

What are these medications? A beta blocker is prescribed after an individual has a heart attack, or for someone with a heart condition, like an abnormal heart rhythm. Diuretics (also known as water pills) help the body to get rid of excess sodium and water, while ACE inhibitors block the body from making angiotensin II, a hormone that causes the arteries to narrow. This helps widen the blood vessels, which in turn lowers blood pressure as well as increases blood flow to the heart.

10: Percentage of body weight that an overweight individual should lose in order to see a big improvement in blood pressure. "Losing just 10 or 20 pounds can make a huge difference," Krasuski says. "Often a person who loses 10 percent of his body weight finds he is no longer hypertensive." Hypertension can be a silent killer, so "By keeping blood pressure down, we can reduce the risk of kidney disease and failure and possibly death," he adds.

Dietary changes can also help people with high blood pressure, explains Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. "The DASH [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension] diet has been shown to lower blood pressure," she says. "Whatís great about it is that it is healthy for everyone. The focus is on increasing your fruits and vegetables and decreasing your sodium, trans fats, and sugary foods."

1,500: Number of milligrams (mg.) of sodium (salt) per day that people with high blood pressure should limit themselves to, according to Thayer.

2,300: Number of milligrams of sodium per day that people with who donít have high blood pressure should limit themselves to. However, "The average sodium intake is around 3,300 mg per day," Thayer notes.

Thayer also offers these five tips to help keep your blood pressure in the normal range:

1. Eat Fresh, Whole Foods

Processed foods tend to be high in sodium, so it pays to read the labels before you buy, Thayer says. "If you eat fresh, whole foods that you prepare yourself, you will be eating less sodium. So it involves more than just leaving the salt shaker alone. You need to take it to that next level and pay attention to food labels to see where the sodium is coming from."

2. Consume Potassium-Rich Fruits and Vegetables

"Bananas, sweet potatoes, and yogurt are all high in potassium," Thayer explains. Itís recommended that you consume 4,700 mg. of potassium a day, which most people arenít getting. In fact, most people only get about half the recommended amount of potassium.

3. If you Drink, Do so in Moderation

"If you drink a lot of alcohol, this can raise your blood pressure," she says.

4. If you Smoke, Quit

"Quitting will bring your blood pressure down right away," Thayer says.

5. Learn to Manage Your Stress.

You may do this through exercise, meditation, or deep breathing, Thayer notes.

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, reviewed this article.


Richard Krasuski, MD. Phone interview February 25, 2015.

Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN. Phone interview February 25, 2015.

"High Blood Pressure Causing More Deaths Despite Drop in Heart Disease, Stroke Deaths." American Heart Association. December 19, 2014.

"Understanding Blood Pressure Readings." American Heart Association. Page updated March 11, 2015.

"How Do Beta Blocker Drugs Affect Exercise?" American Heart Association. Accessed March 14, 2015.

"Types of Blood Pressure Medications." American Heart Association. Accessed March 14, 2015.

"Ace Inhibitors." American Heart Association. Accessed March 14, 2015.