MPA | Pharmacy News

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time (high blood pressure, also known as hypertension or HTN), it can damage the body in many ways and can lead to many health problems such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure.

Blood pressure is measured as systolic (sis-TOL-ik) and diastolic (di-ah-STOL-ik) pressures. Systolic refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

You most often will see blood pressure numbers written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number such as 120/80 mmHg. The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure. Categories of blood pressure levels in adults are detailed in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults (measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg)
Category Systolic (top number)
Diastolic (bottom number)
Normal Less than 120 And Less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 Or 80–89
High Blood Pressure
Stage 1 140-159 Or 90–99
Stage 2 160 or higher Or 100 or higher

The ranges in the table above apply to most adults (aged 18 and older) who don’t have short-term serious illnesses. HTN numbers also differ for children and teens. Blood pressure normally rises with age and body size. Newborn babies often have very low blood pressure numbers, while older teens have numbers similar to adults. The ranges for normal blood pressure and HTN generally are lower for youth than for adults. To find out whether a child has HTN, a doctor will compare the child’s blood pressure numbers to average numbers for his or her age, gender and height.

A patient’s systolic and diastolic numbers may not be in the same blood pressure category. In this case, the more severe category is the one that they’re in. For example, if their systolic number is 160 and their diastolic number is 80, they have stage 2 HTN. If their systolic number is 120 and their diastolic number is 95, they have stage 1 HTN.

Pharmacy technicians can help patients manage their hypertension by learning the medications commonly used to treat HTN and alerting the pharmacist of under- or over-utilization of refills on these medications. Technicians should also alert pharmacists of elevated blood pressure readings reported by patients or other side effects that the patient may be experiencing.

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, What is High Blood Pressure?, Sept. 10, 2015.

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