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Hypertension can be easily detected with a simple blood pressure test. The test should be done by a doctor or other health professional to confirm the diagnosis. Taking your blood pressure at home or at a drugstore kiosk is an option for informal monitoring, but only a doctor can verify the reading—perhaps take multiple readings—and advise you on treatment options. You will get two numbers after your test. The numbers reveal your health risk. Here's what you should know:

  • Blood pressure is highest just after a heartbeat (called systolic pressure) and lowest while the heart rests between beats (called diastolic pressure)
  • These pressures can be measured with a blood pressure cuff (a sphygmomanometer) with units of measurement in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
  • Normal systolic blood pressure (top number) is less than 120 mm Hg
  • Normal diastolic pressure (bottom number) is less than 80 mm Hg
  • Your doctor will give you these two numbers together, such as 120/80 ("120 over 80")
  • If your blood pressure is greater than 140 systolic or 90 diastolic you have Stage 1 hypertension and may need treatment
  • Readings of 160/100 or higher are considered extremely high (Stage 2 hypertension)
  • Readings between 120 and 140 systolic (top number) or 80-90 diastolic (bottom number) are considered "prehypertension" and may lead to more frequent testing.