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Know Your Blood Pressure Numbers

Created: 11/24/2014
Last Updated: 11/14/2019

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What are your numbers? It's important for everyone to check their blood pressure regularly and know their blood pressure numbers.

There are many places you can test your blood pressure, such as the free machines in many pharmacies. You can track your blood pressure using tools on your computer or smartphone.

Taking steps now can prevent heart disease and stroke down the road.

It's even more important to pay attention to your blood pressure if you're African American.
Why is it so important for African Americans to pay attention to blood pressure?

  • They have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • They may develop high blood pressure at a younger age.
  • They may find their high blood pressure is harder to control.
  • African-American adults have higher rates of early death from causes related to high blood pressure.


What do the numbers mean?

Sample reading: 120/80 mmHG

Systolic (top number): pressure at the moment your heart beats
Diastolic (bottom number): pressure at the moment between heartbeats

High blood pressure:
Systolic 140 or above
Diastolic 90 or above

Pre-high pressure:
Systolic between 121-139
Diastolic between 81-89

Normal blood pressure:
Systolic 120 or less
Diastolic 80 or less

Where to check?
You can check your blood pressure at these and other places:

  • Doctor's office: Should be done during every visit, for any reason.
  • Pharmacy: Many have free machines.

At home: You'll find a range of cost options (and some free!) for manual or electronic devices. Ask your physician or pharmacist to help you find the right option for you. Some of these devices record your results or can be connected to your tablet or phone, like the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor. Others, like Heart360, allow you to input your readings as often as you need.

Get a good read

  • Don't have coffee or caffeine and don't smoke 30 minutes before a reading.
  • Don't talk or eat while you check.
  • Sit with your back supported and both feet on the floor.
  • Get the cuff on your bare arm, not over your sleeve.
  • Take more than one reading, especially if you get unusual numbers. All kinds of factors, from exercise to cold weather, can throw your blood pressure off.

Remember to talk with your health care provider to determine an appropriate blood pressure goal and treatment plan that's specific to your health.  

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