Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Third Misconception About High Blood Pressure: It's OK As Long As One Number Is Normal

You may notice that when your doctor measures your blood pressure, the reading includes two numbers, one written on top of the other. These numbers can be confusing. The top number is called your systolic blood pressure. This number represents the force of blood through your blood vessels during your heartbeat.

  • 119 or below is normal systolic blood pressure
  • 120-139 is prehypertension
  • 140 and greater is high blood pressure
  • 150 and greater is high blood pressure in those over age 60.

The bottom number is called your diastolic blood pressure. This number represents the force of blood through your blood vessels in between heartbeats, while your heart is resting.

  • 79 or below is normal diastolic blood pressure
  • 80-89 is prehypertension
  • 90 and greater is hypertension

Many people pay more attention to the systolic rate than the diastolic, but experts say that the heart can tolerate a high top (systolic) number better than a high bottom (diastolic) number.

Blood pressure does change throughout the day, depending on your activities. Blood pressure changes over time, as well. Systolic blood pressure tends to rise as you get older. Diastolic blood pressure may decrease as you get older.

If either of your blood pressure readings is consistently above normal, then you need to take action right away. You and your doctor can develop a plan to treat high blood pressure or even prehypertension before damage to your organs occurs.

Fourth Misconception About High Blood Pressure Is About Treatment

Give up your favorite foods. Take drugs with annoying side effects. These are some things you might fear when you think about high blood pressure treatment. It is true that it may take some time to develop a treatment plan that works best for you, because high blood pressure often has several underlying causes. In many cases, the specific cause of high blood pressure may not be evident.

Your doctor will work closely with you to determine which combination of treatments works to best control high blood pressure. Your treatment plan is likely to include the following elements:

The DASH eating plan. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan includes eating less fat and saturated fat as well as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods. Limiting use of salt and alcohol can also help lower your high blood pressure. A dietitian can help you find ways to meet these goals without giving up your favorite foods or great flavor.

Weight Control. Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Following the DASH eating plan and getting regular exercise can help you lose weight. Ask your doctor to help you determine a goal. Your doctor can also refer you to other health care professionals for assistance in setting up a weight loss plan.

WebMD Video

Two people sitting at a table

From AHRQ

Watch These Videos
Everyone can benefit from the facts.