How do I know if I have high or low blood pressure numbers?

Blood pressure is the force generated by blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Low blood pressure may be associated with dizziness, nausea and lightheadedness whereas high blood pressure may not be associated with any symptoms.
Blood pressure is the force generated by blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Low blood pressure may be associated with dizziness, nausea and lightheadedness whereas high blood pressure may not be associated with any symptoms.

Measuring your blood pressure gives you an idea about the amount of force generated by blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as it travels throughout your body. Blood pressure can change throughout the day for various reasons, but having consistently high or low blood pressure could be a sign of a serious health condition. 

You measure your blood pressure using two sets of numbers. The first measures your systolic blood pressure, the stress placed on your artery walls from your beating heart. The second measures your diastolic blood pressure, which tells you the level of pressure applied when your heart pauses between beats. 

Various methods are available to check your blood pressure. You can find out your numbers by:

  • Making an appointment with a doctor
  • Visiting a pharmacy that has a digital blood pressure machine available for public use
  • Buying and using a home blood pressure monitor

The typical blood pressure range for most people is between 90/60 mm Hg and 120/80 mm Hg. (The “mm Hg” stands for millimeters of mercury.) If your numbers are outside that range, you may be dealing with high or low blood pressure — also known as hypertension and hypotension, respectively. 

Signs of high or low blood pressure

Low blood pressure numbers could mean that essential parts of your body like the brain and heart aren’t receiving enough blood. Some people can have low numbers without it causing them any issues. Others experience symptoms that may show a link between their hypotension and other health problems. 

Some common signs of low blood pressure include:

High blood pressure, a potentially serious problem that could lead to conditions like a stroke or heart attack, typically doesn’t have any symptoms — causing it to be labeled a “silent killer.” Getting tested is the only reliable way to find out if you have high blood pressure.

Causes of high or low blood pressure

While high blood pressure can be tied to your age or family history, you could also be at higher risk if you are pregnant or you have diabetes. Diet and other lifestyle factors can increase your risk as well, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Too much sodium
  • Not enough potassium
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Tobacco use 

Your blood pressure can drop for different reasons. Some people end up with low blood pressure because of medication they take, like: 

You can temporarily have low blood pressure because of sudden shifts in your body position. Children and young adults often end up with a form of hypotension called neurally mediated hypotension, which occurs when you stand on your feet for long periods. 

Other conditions can also lead to a diagnosis of hypotension, like:

When to see a doctor about high or low blood pressure

Your body may go into shock if it does not receive enough oxygen and nutrients because of low blood pressure. You should call 911 immediately if you experience any signs of shock. This can include:

  • Cold and sweaty skin
  • A bluish skin tone
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weak or rapid pulse

Low blood pressure can leave older adults vulnerable to suffering a fall that causes an injury. If your blood pressure remains too low without treatment, you could also end up with permanent damage to various organs. 

Since high blood pressure typically doesn’t have any symptoms, it’s important to be aware of your potential risk from factors like age, heredity, and lifestyle — and to have your pressure checked regularly.

Tests for high or low blood pressure

The doctor will perform an exam, check your pressure, and look for causes of your high or low blood pressure numbers. This usually includes checking your vital signs and asking questions about your medical history, like:

  • Your typical blood pressure numbers 
  • Any recent accidents, illnesses, or injuries
  • Your eating habits
  • More details about your symptoms

Your doctor may also order one or more of the following tests:

Treatments for high or low blood pressure

While high blood pressure can be serious, the good news is that it’s usually manageable through medication or lifestyle changes, or both. Some common lifestyle recommendations to help keep your pressure in check include:

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly — at least 90 minutes per week or more.
  • Lower the amount of sodium in your diet.
  • Don’t drink alcohol excessively.
  • Keep a healthy weight.

Immediate symptoms of low blood pressure can sometimes be eased simply by sitting or lying down. It can also help to elevate your feet above the level of your heart. If your low blood pressure does not cause any significant impacts in your daily life, you may not require further treatment. 

Long-term treatment for hypotension can vary depending on your symptoms and how low your numbers are. Your doctor may focus on dealing with any underlying health conditions causing your low blood pressure. 

They may decide to administer intravenous fluids to provide your body with nutrients. Wearing compression socks on your calves and thighs may help improve the blood flow from the veins in your legs to your heart. 
 

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Medically Reviewed on 2/16/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Five Simple Steps to Control Your Blood Pressure."

American Heart Association: "Understanding Blood Pressure Readings."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Know Your Risk for High Blood Pressure."

MedlinePlus: "Low blood pressure."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Low Blood Pressure."

National Institutes of Health: "Blood Pressure Matters."

Merck Manual: "Low Blood Pressure."