What The Numbers In A Blood Pressure Reading Mean

You’ve seen your blood pressure numbers many times. Some of the time you’ve been informed they are normal, low or a little high. If you’ve wondered what the numbers indicate you’ve likely asked yourself, what do the blood pressure numbers mean?

The blood pressure numbers indicate how much pressure is exerted on the walls of the arteries. The systolic number or top number, indicates the pressure on the artery walls when the heart beats. The diastolic number or bottom number, indicates the pressure on the artery walls when the heart rests between beats.

This article will explain in more detail about the numbers and their meaning. In addition, I’ll cover what ranges each blood pressure numbers fall into, like the normal or high ranges.

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What The Numbers In A Blood Pressure Reading Means

There are two numbers in a blood pressure reading. The top number (systolic) and bottom number (diastolic) 1.

The heart supplies blood to the tissues and organs of your body. To accomplish this crucial task, every time the heart beats it pumps blood into the blood vessels of the circulatory system.

As the blood moves through the vessels it puts pressure on the artery walls. The blood pressure measurements indicate the pressure on the blood vessel walls.

What does the systolic number mean? The systolic number indicates the pressure on the artery walls when the heart beats pumping out blood.

What does the diastolic number mean? The diastolic number indicates the pressure on the artery walls when the heart is resting between beats. 

The Blood Pressure Numbers Ranges

Depending on the blood pressure reading, the numbers fall into a specific blood pressure range. What are the blood pressure numbers ranges? There are five blood pressure numbers ranges:

  1. Normal
  2. Elevated 
  3. High Blood Pressure Stage 1
  4. High Blood Pressure Stage 2
  5. Hypertensive Crisis

blood pressure explained

Blood pressure numbers fit into one of the five ranges. The following are some examples of blood pressure numbers and their meaning. Let’s start with the most common numbers, what does 120/80 mean?

  • 120/80 means blood pressure is in the High Blood Pressure Stage 1 range.
  • 141/79 means blood pressure is in the High Blood Pressure Stage 2 range.
  • 138/95 means blood pressure is in the High Blood Pressure Stage 2 range.
  • 128/73 means blood pressure is in the Elevated Blood Pressure range.
  • 116/69 means blood pressure is in the Normal range.
  • 182/110 means blood pressure is in the Hypertensive Crisis range.

When examining the blood pressure ranges on the chart, the 3rd column between systolic and diastolic is important. The words listed there are: and, or, and/or. In stage 1 (or) only one of the BP numbers have to fall in the range 2.

It’s different for normal and elevated (and) where both systolic and diastolic numbers have to fall in the range. For hypertensive crisis (and/or) either number or both fall in the range.

1. Normal Blood Pressure Category

What is the normal blood pressure numbers? The normal blood pressure range is a systolic number less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic number less than 80 mmHg. 

2. Elevated Blood Pressure Category

What is the elevated blood pressure numbers? The elevated blood pressure range is a systolic number from 120-129 mmHg and a diastolic number less than 80 mmHg.

3. High Blood Pressure Stage 1 Category

What are the high blood pressure stage 1 numbers? The high blood pressure stage 1 range is a systolic number from 130-139 mmHg or a diastolic number from 80-89 mmHg.

4. High Blood Pressure Stage 2 Category

What are the high blood pressure stage 2 numbers? The high blood pressure stage 2 range is a systolic number 140 mmHg or higher or a diastolic number 90 mmHg or higher.

5. Hypertensive Crisis Category

What are the blood pressure numbers for hypertensive crisis? The hypertensive crisis range is a systolic number higher than 180 mmHg and/or a diastolic number higher than 120 mmHg.

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What The Blood Pressure Numbers Depend On

The blood pressure numbers at the time of the measurement are influenced by various factors 3. What does blood pressure numbers depend on?

Blood pressure numbers depend on the following:

  • The amount of blood the heart is pumping through the circulatory system.
  • The resistance of the arteries to blood flow.
  • Arterial stiffness.
  • Health, emotional state and activity.
  • Baroreceptors.

In the short term, blood pressure is regulated by baroreceptors which constantly monitor the body. Baroreceptors are special receptors that detect changes in blood pressure. They are found within the walls of the blood vessels.

The New Blood Pressure Guidelines

The new blood pressure guidelines changed the meaning of the blood pressure numbers 4. How did the new numbers for blood pressure readings change?

  • Before the new guidelines Normal Blood Pressure was under 140/90. Normal Blood Pressure is now under 120/80.
  • Previous guidelines classified 140/90 mmHg as High Blood Pressure Stage 1 hypertension. This level is now classified as High Blood Pressure Stage 2 hypertension.
  • High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 mmHg and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher.
  • The new guidelines eliminate the category of prehypertension. This was used for blood pressures with a higher number (systolic) between 120-139 mm Hg or a lower number (diastolic) between 80-89 mm Hg. People with those readings will now be classified as having either Elevated (120-129 and less than 80) or High Blood Pressure Stage I (130-139 or 80-89).

When did the new blood pressure guidelines change? In 2017 new blood pressure guidelines were released that replaced the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee issued in 2003 and overseen by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Why were blood pressure guidelines changed? The blood pressure guidelines were changed for the following:

  • By lowering the definition of high blood pressure, the guidelines recommend earlier intervention to prevent further increases in blood pressure and the complications of High Blood Pressure.
  • The new blood pressure guidelines stress the importance of using proper technique to measure blood pressure. Blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two to three readings on at least two different occasions, the authors in the blood pressure report said.

Overnight, the meaning of high blood pressure numbers was changed. Instead of 32% of U.S. adults having high blood pressure with the previous guidelines, the new guidelines resulted in nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) having high blood pressure 5.

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Read Next – More BP Related Articles!

Diastolic Blood Pressure

Isolated Systolic Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

High Diastolic Blood Pressure Meaning

Systolic Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure Stage 1 – The 1st High BP Range

 

Article Resources: Blood Pressure Explained follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. American Heart Association: Understanding blood pressure readings[]
  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: High Blood Pressure[]
  3. CDC: High Blood Pressure[]
  4. American College of Cardiology: New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension[]
  5. AHA Journals Hypertension: 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on blood pressure topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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