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Get Your Blood Pressure Checked

Content last updated on:
November 25, 2014

The Basics

Check your blood pressure at least every 2 years starting at age 18. It’s important to check your blood pressure often, especially if you are over age 40.

High blood pressure is the same as hypertension.
Hypertension (“hy-puhr-TEHN-shun”) is the medical term for high blood pressure. High blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get tested.

By taking steps to lower your blood pressure, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Lowering your blood pressure can help you live a longer, healthier life.

What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is how hard your blood pushes against the walls of your arteries when your heart pumps blood.

Arteries are the tubes that carry blood away from your heart. Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through your arteries to the rest of your body.

How can I get my blood pressure checked?
To test your blood pressure, a nurse or doctor will put a cuff around your upper arm and pump up the cuff with air until it feels tight. Then the nurse or doctor will slowly let the air out.

This usually takes less than a minute. The nurse or doctor can tell you what your blood pressure numbers are right after the test is over.

You can also check your own blood pressure with a blood pressure machine. You can find blood pressure machines in shopping malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?
A blood pressure test measures how hard your heart is working to pump blood through your body.

Blood pressure is measured with 2 numbers. The first number is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is the pressure in your arteries between each beat, when your heart relaxes.

Compare your blood pressure to these numbers:

  • Normal blood pressure is lower than 120/80 (said “120 over 80”).
  • High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.
  • Blood pressure that’s between normal and high (for example, 130/85) is called prehypertension (“PREE-hy-puhr-tehn-shun”), or high normal blood pressure.

Am I at risk for high blood pressure?
One in 3 Americans has high blood pressure. As you get older, your risk of high blood pressure increases. You may be at higher risk for high blood pressure if you:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are African American
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Eat foods high in sodium (salt)
  • Get less than 30 minutes of physical activity on most days

 These things may also increase your risk of high blood pressure:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having chronic (ongoing) stress
  • Smoking

Learn more about what could put you at risk for high blood pressure.

What do I need to know about pregnancy and blood pressure?
High blood pressure can be dangerous for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. If you have high blood pressure and you want to get pregnant, it’s important to take steps to lower your blood pressure.

Sometimes, women get high blood pressure for the first time during pregnancy. This is called gestational (“jes-TAY-shon-al”) hypertension. Usually, this type of high blood pressure goes away after the baby is born.

If you have high blood pressure while you are pregnant, be sure to visit your doctor regularly.

What if I have high blood pressure?
If you have high blood pressure, talk to a doctor. You may need medicine to control your blood pressure.

Print out this list of questions to ask your doctor about blood pressure.

To lower your blood pressure, take these steps:

Small changes can add up. For example, losing just 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. To learn more, check out this guide to lowering high blood pressure [PDF - 269 KB].

Take Action!

Take Action!

Take steps to prevent or lower high blood pressure. To start, get your blood pressure checked as soon as possible.

Check your blood pressure regularly.
Ask a doctor or nurse to check your blood pressure at your next visit.

You can also find blood pressure machines at many shopping malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores. Most of these machines don't cost any money to use.

What about cost?
Blood pressure testing is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get your blood pressure checked by a doctor or nurse at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what's included in your plan. Visit HealthCare.gov for information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act.

Eat healthy.
Eating less sodium (salt) can lower your blood pressure. Look for foods that say “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.”

When you go food shopping, check the Nutrition Facts label for the Daily Value (DV) of sodium [PDF - 410 KB]. Choose foods with 5% or less of the Daily Value of sodium. Foods with a DV of 20% or more are high in sodium.

Eating more potassium can also help lower your blood pressure. Good sources of potassium include potatoes, cantaloupe, bananas, beans, and yogurt.

Get more tips to:

Get active.
Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of high blood pressure. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate activity, like:

  • Walking fast
  • Dancing
  • Riding bikes
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics

Drink alcohol only in moderation.
This means no more than 2 drinks a day for men or 1 drink a day for women.

Manage your stress.
Managing stress can help prevent and control high blood pressure. Deep breathing and meditation are good ways to relax and manage stress.

Quit smoking.
Smoking damages your heart and blood vessels. Get tips to quit – for good.

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