Diagnosing high blood pressure

To diagnose high blood pressure, your primary care provider (PCP) will take two or more readings at separate medical appointments. Learn more about screening for high blood pressure, including how to prepare.

Your PCP may diagnose you with high blood pressure when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your PCP may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other cardiovascular risk factors.

For children younger than 13, blood pressure readings are compared to readings common for children of the same, age, sex, and height. Read more about blood pressure readings for children.

Talk to your PCP if your blood pressure readings are consistently higher than normal. Note that readings above 180 over 120 mm Hg are dangerously high and require immediate medical attention.

Your doctor may diagnose you with one of two types of high blood pressure. What is the difference?

Depending on the cause, your doctor could diagnose you with primary or secondary high blood pressure.
  • Primary high blood pressure. Primary, or essential, high blood pressure is the most common type of high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure tends to develop over years as a person ages.
  • Secondary high blood pressure. Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or occurs as a side effect of a medicine. Your blood pressure may improve once the cause is treated or removed.

For most people with high blood pressure, a PCP will develop a treatment plan that may include heart-healthy lifestyle changes alone or with medicines. Heart-healthy lifestyle changes, such as heart-healthy eating, can be highly effective in treating high blood pressure.

If your high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or medicine, it may improve once the cause is treated or removed.


Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services