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High Blood Pressure Treatment Guidelines - Topic Overview

Doctors have more than one set of guidelines they can follow for treatment of high blood pressure.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The guidelines are based on research evidence and expert opinion, and their recommendations differ in slight ways. But the goal of treatment is the same: to lower your risk of health problems that are caused by, or made worse by, high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, you'll work with your doctor to lower it. Your doctor uses a guideline to help make a treatment plan that is right for you. No matter which guideline your doctor uses, your treatment plan can help you lower blood pressure and stay healthy.

Blood pressure classification

An ideal blood pressure for adults is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.2

Blood pressure classification
If the first (systolic) number is:OR the second (diastolic) number is:Your blood pressure is:
120 to 13980 to 89Borderline-high (prehypertension)
140 to 15990 to 99High
160 or more100 or moreVery high

Blood pressure goals

Your doctor will give you a blood pressure goal. You'll want to try to keep your blood pressure below your goal. Your goal is based on your age and health. Treatment guidelines differ slightly about blood pressure goals for certain groups of people. No matter which guideline your doctor uses, he or she will recommend a goal that is right for you.

If you have a health problem such as diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease, your goal might be less than 140/90.

If you don't have another health problem, your goal might be based on your age. For example, if you are over 60, your goal might be less than 150/90.

Treatment options

Treatment options that lower blood pressure include lifestyle changes and medicine.

Your options depend on how high your blood pressure is, whether you have other health problems such as diabetes, and whether any organs have already been damaged. Your doctor may also consider how likely you are to develop other diseases, especially heart disease.

Treatment options

Blood pressure


Prehypertension (120–139 over 80–89)

Lifestyle changes

High blood pressure (140–159 over 90–99)

Lifestyle changes, possibly medicine

Very high blood pressure (160 over 100 or higher)

Medicine plus lifestyle changes

Everyone needs to have a healthy lifestyle, no matter what his or her blood pressure goal is. Lifestyle changes are as important as medicine in lowering blood pressure and lowering the risk for heart attack and stroke. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, eating healthy, being active, limiting sodium and alcohol, and not smoking.

If healthy habits aren't enough to bring your blood pressure down to your goal, you may need to take medicine too. Work with your doctor to decide what is right for you.

Guidelines for children

Children who have high blood pressure often continue to have high blood pressure as adults. Children ages 3 and older may have their blood pressure monitored regularly during routine physical exams.7

High blood pressure in children is rare but needs to be evaluated to find treatable causes. When a child has high blood pressure, it is more likely to be from a secondary cause—like a disease—than when an adult has high blood pressure.

High blood pressure in children should be treated with lifestyle changes. A child might take medicine too, if needed.8, 9

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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