Blood Pressure Numbers: When to Get Help

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Topic Overview

If you check your blood pressure, you may wonder when an abnormal reading means you should call your doctor. This information can help you understand what your blood pressure numbers mean and when you need to call for help.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?

Your blood pressure consists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. Someone with a systolic pressure of 117 and a diastolic pressure of 78 has a blood pressure of 117/78, or "117 over 78."

Blood pressure categories for adultsfootnote 1
Blood pressure category First number (systolic) Second number (diastolic)
Ideal Less than 120 AND Less than 80
Elevated 120 to 129 AND Less than 80
High blood pressure (hypertension)-Stage 1 130 to 139 OR 80 to 89
High blood pressure (hypertension)-Stage 2 140 or more OR 90 or more

In general, the lower your blood pressure, the better. For example, a blood pressure reading of less than 90/60 is healthy as long as you feel okay.

What can cause a short-term change in blood pressure?

It's normal for blood pressure to go up and down throughout the day. Things like exercise, stress, and sleeping can affect your blood pressure. Some medicines can cause a spike in blood pressure, including certain asthma medicines and cold remedies.

A low blood pressure reading can be caused by many things, including some medicines, a severe allergic reaction, or an infection. Another cause is dehydration, which is when your body loses too much fluid.

When should you get help for an abnormal blood pressure reading?

One high or low blood pressure reading by itself may not mean you need to call for help. If you take your blood pressure and it is out of the normal range, wait a few minutes and take it again. If it's still high or low, use the following guidance.

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your blood pressure is much higher than normal (such as 180/110 or higher).
  • You think high blood pressure is causing symptoms such as:
    • Severe headache.
    • Blurry vision.

Call a doctor if:

  • Your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher on two or more occasions.
  • Your blood pressure is usually normal and well controlled, but it goes above the normal range on more than one occasion.
  • Your blood pressure is lower than usual and you are dizzy or lightheaded.
  • You think you may be having side effects from your blood pressure medicine.

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References

Citations

  1. Whelton PK, et al. (2017). 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. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online November 13, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.11.006. Accessed November 20, 2017.

Other Works Consulted

  • Whelton PK, et al. (2017). 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. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online November 13, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.11.006. Accessed November 20, 2017.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofDecember 19, 2017