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 pre-hypertension, 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.
What a blood pressure reading of 171/103 means
Readings between 160/110 and 180/110 usually indicate STAGE 2 HYPERTENSION, which puts you at high risk for life-threatening problems such as heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure in this range can cause symptoms such as headache, nausea and vomiting, mental confusion, vision changes, chest pain, or shortness of breath. If you notice any of these symptoms, your high blood pressure is considered a hypertensive emergency and you need to call 911. During a hypertensive emergency, a medical team will work to bring your blood pressure down quickly. If you don't have these symptoms but your blood pressure remains high, doctors call this "hypertensive urgency." It's important to seek medical attention for hypertensive urgency, so that doctors can help bring your blood pressure down over a period of hours to days.
Often people don't notice any symptoms, even when blood pressure is very high. Over time, however, uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to chronic damage of the body's arteries and organs. Common results of this damage include enlargement of the heart, which can cause heart failure, and chronic kidney damage, which can eventually require dialysis.
What to do if your blood pressure reading is 171/103
Don't make a decision based on one BP reading alone; lie down and rest for a few minutes before getting additional readings when you're calm.
Watch for symptoms of hypertensive emergency, such as headache, nausea or vomiting, confusion, vision changes, chest pain, and/or shortness of breath. These could be signs of a life-threatening problem and require a call to 911.
Be sure you're taking all medications as prescribed.
Call your doctor if several BP readings are above 180/110.
If you haven't yet done so, purchase a home blood pressure monitor that uses an arm cuff and check your BP every few days. (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.
Talk with a doctor about adjusting dosage of medications to bring your BP readings down.
Ask the doctor to check for other conditions that can worsen high blood pressure, such as sleep apnea.
Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you're on any medications that can worsen high blood pressure (these can include NSAIDs, as well as some antidepressants).
If you haven't yet done so, purchase a home blood pressure monitor that uses an arm cuff and check BP every few days. (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.
Once you're discussed your medical plan with your doctor, continue to pursue lifestyle modifications:
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).
Notes from the geriatrician on the care of those ages 80 and over:
Very high blood pressure in this range should almost always be treated, even in very old and frail adults. However, as people get older, they often become more sensitive to quick drops in blood pressure. For this reason, if there are no symptoms of hypertensive emergency, the plan for bringing down blood pressure tends to be more gradual in very old adults (above ages 80 to 85).
Leslie Kernisan, MD Caring.com Senior Medical Editor
Robert Ostfeld, MD, M.Sc., FACC Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine Montefiore Medical Center
Carolyn Strimike, RN, MSN Cardiac Nurse-Practitioner at Women's Heart Center at St. Joseph's Medical Center Phoenix, Arizona Cofounder, HeartsStrong, a website for education about heart health Author: Take Charge: A Man's Road Map to a Healthy Heart