The information below is designed to help you understand what your latest blood pressure readings may mean for your health -- and to provide tips on what you can do to get or keep your blood pressure in a healthy zone.
NOTE: This information isn't a substitute for medical advice provided by your doctor. If you think you might have hypertension or elevated blood pressure, be sure to discuss your blood pressure concerns with a doctor or nurse, who can help you factor in other important information, such as other medical problems you may have. In particular, the information below may not always apply to those who are very old, very frail, or have multiple chronic medical conditions. View the full blood pressure chart.
Definitions of blood pressure terms
Systolic (the upper number in the reading) is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats; it measures how hard the heart muscle is working to pump blood throughout the body.
Diastolic (the lower number in the reading) is the pressure of the blood against the blood vessel walls between heartbeats when the heart is relaxed.
What a blood pressure reading of 126/61 means
Readings between 120/61 and 129/79 usually indicate ELEVATED BLOOD PRESSURE, indicating you don't have hypertension but your blood pressure is higher than what experts consider optimal for most adults. Research studies suggest that people with elevated blood pressure are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, compared to people with lower blood pressure. However, many experts currently don't recommend using medications to treat elevated blood pressure, unless the patient also has other medical conditions that would benefit from lower blood pressure (such as heart failure or kidney disease).
Many people with elevated blood pressure eventually develop true hypertension, so having blood pressure checked regularly is important.
If you're already on medications for high blood pressure, this level of blood pressure is often considered adequate control by most doctors.
What to do if your blood pressure reading is 126/61
Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your blood pressure concerns.
Ask your doctor to check for other conditions that can raise blood pressure, such as sleep apnea.
Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you're on any medications that can raise blood pressure (these can include NSAIDs as well as some antidepressants).
If you're already on medications for blood pressure, continue to take them as prescribed.
Optional: Because elevated blood pressure eventually can develop into true hypertension, consider getting a home blood pressure monitor that uses an arm cuff, and check your blood pressure occasionally to see if it's going into the hypertensive range. (Wrist and finger monitoring systems don't give accurate results.) Write down each reading, indicating the date and time, and bring this record to the doctor when you visit.
Make lifestyle changes:
Lose weight or maintain healthy weight.
Increase physical activity.
Lower salt intake to less than 2g per day (most Americans get 5 to 10 grams a day).
Caring for those ages 80 and over
As long as there haven't been any concerns regarding falls or dizziness, most geriatricians consider this range to be a good level for blood pressure, even in those who are taking medications for hypertension.
However, as people get older or more chronically ill, they become more likely to develop side effects from blood pressure medications, such as dizziness when they first stand up. For this reason, if you're concerned about falls or dizziness, make sure your (or your loved one's) blood pressure has been checked for "postural" or "orthostatic" changes. Some older people feel better once their blood pressure medications have been reduced a bit.
Sources: Leslie Kernisan, MD; Robert Ostfeld, MD, M.Sc., FACC; Farrokh Sohrabi, MD; Carolyn Strimike, RN, MSN