How to Read Blood Pressure Charts


Checking your blood pressure regularly and tracking it on a chart is an invaluable diagnostic tool for you and your doctor. The chart shows patterns that may be emerging and can be a warning tool for you to take action. If you are at risk for hypertension–high blood pressure–this tool can prevent permanent damage to your health. Hypertension is deemed “the silent killer” because it rarely has any symptoms. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to stroke, heart attack and hardening of the arteries.

Step 1

Educate yourself about what blood pressure–or BP–means; it is the force that circulates blood through your body and back to your heart. The heart squeezes blood through valves and then out to the lungs and arteries. These vessel walls expand and contract in response to pressure. After each beat, the heart valves close and the large vessels contract to push the blood throughout your body. The heart rests, fills up with blood and gets ready for the next forceful beat. When the heart beats, it raises the level of pressure in the arteries, and this is the systolic measure–or top number. As the heart begins to rest, the fall of pressure is the diastolic measure–or the bottom number. These numbers are expressed as 120 over 70, for example.

Step 2

Note that the desirable BP reading for a healthy adult is 115/75. This is optimal for all major systems of the body to operate well. According to Dr. Vincent Moloney of Temple University of Medicine in Pennsylvania, four factors effect blood pressure: your heart rate and the force of it, the expanding and contracting size of small veins and arteries, the amount of blood in your vessels and the kidney’s ability to decrease and increase pressure.

Step 3

Be aware that aging, stress and too much salt can bring on mild or pre-hypertension. This is diagnosed after BP is averaging 130 to 139 over 85 to 89. This is important to keep charting daily as you change your diet to healthier choices, cut down on sodium, increase exercise and lose weight if necessary. These changes can bring your BP down without medication.

Step 4

Ignore the pre-hypertension, and it could progress to stage one, or mild hypertension. This is defined as 140 to 159 over 90 to 99. If these numbers remain steady over weeks and months, your doctor may suggest beginning a medication to bring it down. He will no doubt strongly recommend lifestyle changes, as previously outlined.

Step 5

Charting and staging then progress to moderate hypertension or stage two, with the parameters of 160 to 179 over 100 to 109. Typically, this type of elevated BP is accompanied by obesity, excess salt consumption, excess alcohol intake, smoking nicotine, stress and a sedentary lifestyle. This stage will need to be treated with medication if it remains elevated. Your charting will help this pattern to emerge and be clearly diagnosed.

Step 6

Understand that severe hypertension requires medical attention. Stage three is defined by the numbers 180 plus over 110 plus. If left untreated, stroke, heart problems, retina and kidney complications may occur. Your doctor would place you on strong hypertensive medication and you would remain alert for BP readings to decrease.

Step 7

Seek immediate medical attention, such as an emergency room, if you ever develop stage four, at 210 plus over 120 plus. This is considered a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment. If alone, call 911 and report your BP to the dispatcher, requesting help. Do not try to drive yourself as a stroke or heart failure could be imminent.

About this Author

Jean Jenkins has been a registered nurse for 20 years. She has written medical research materials, articles and newsletters for organizations such as the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, the Colorado Neurological Institute and the Autism Society of America. Jenkins has specialized in the fields of neurosurgery, movement disorders, high-risk obstetrics and autism spectrum disorders.