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Get Your Blood Pressure Checked

patient having their blood pressure checked

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.
The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension (“hy-puhr-TEHN-shun”). 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 also help you live a longer, healthier life.

What is blood pressure?
Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through your arteries to the rest of your body. Blood pressure is how hard your blood pushes against the walls of your arteries.

What happens when you test your blood pressure?
To test your blood pressure, the nurse or doctor will put a cuff around your upper arm and pump up the cuff until it feels tight. You can also check your own blood pressure using a blood pressure machine.

How much time does the test take?
It usually takes less than a minute. The doctor or nurse can tell you the numbers right after the test is over.

What do the numbers from my blood pressure test mean?
A blood pressure test tells you how hard your heart is working to pump blood through your body.

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between each beat.

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 in 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?
One in 3 Americans has high blood pressure. Most Americans over age 40 are at risk for high blood pressure.

You may be at extra risk for high blood pressure if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Smoke
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Eat foods high in sodium (salt)
  • Get less than 30 minutes of activity on most days
  • Drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol (2 drinks a day for men or 1 drink a day for women)

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

What if I have high blood pressure?
Talk to your doctor if you have high blood pressure. Here are some ways to lower your blood pressure:

  • Eat healthy foods that are low in saturated fat and sodium (salt).
  • Be active – Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity.
  • Lose weight by eating healthy and getting active.

Small changes can add up. For example, losing just 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure by several points. Some people may need medicine to control their blood pressure.

Learn more about managing high blood pressure:

Take Action!

Find out your blood pressure as early as possible. If you have high blood pressure, take steps to protect your health.

Check your blood pressure regularly.
Many shopping malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores have blood pressure machines you can use. Most of these machines don’t cost any money.

You can also have a doctor or nurse check your blood pressure.

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. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Eat healthy.
Changing your diet, especially by eating less sodium (salt), can lower your blood pressure. Look for foods that say “low sodium” or “no salt added.”

Check the Nutrition Facts Label for the percent Daily Value (DV) of sodium. Choose foods with a DV of sodium of 5% or less. Foods with a DV of 20% or more are high in sodium.

Eating 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, such as:

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

Quit smoking.
Smoking increases your chance of having high blood pressure. Get tips to quit – for good.

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

Manage your stress.
Learning how to manage stress can help prevent and control high blood pressure. Deep breathing is a good way to relax and manage stress.

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Content last updated on: August 22, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133