Understanding Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure (BP) is the pressure exerted by circulating blood upon the walls of blood vessels and is one of the principal vital signs. When used without further specification, “blood pressure” usually refers to the arterial pressure of the systemic circulation, usually measured at a person’s upper arm. A person’s blood pressure is usually expressed in terms of the systolic pressure over diastolic pressure and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal resting blood pressure for an adult is approximately 120/80 mm Hg. We will see exactly what this reading is and different types of Blood Pressure.

Blood pressure varies depending on situation, activity, and disease states, and is regulated by the nervous and endocrine systems. Blood pressure that is pathologically low is called hypotension, and pressure that is pathologically high is hypertension. Both have many causes and can range from mild to severe, with both acute and chronic forms. Chronic hypertension is a risk factor for many complications, including peripheral vascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Hypertension is generally more common, also due to the demands of modern lifestyles. Hypertension and hypotension go often undetected because of infrequent monitoring.

Have you ever wondered what the top and the bottom blood pressurenumbers mean? Doctors call them systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure. Knowing them both is important and could save your life.

Systolic Blood Pressure

When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on the arteries. This is called systolic blood pressure.A normal systolic blood pressure is 120 or below. A systolic blood pressure of 120-139 means you have normal blood pressure that is higher than ideal, or borderline high blood pressure. Even people with this level are at a greater risk of developingheart disease. A systolic blood pressure number of 140 or higher, on repeated measurements, is considered to be hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Diastolic Blood Pressure

The diastolic blood pressure number or the bottom number indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. A normal diastolic blood pressure number is 80 or less. A diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89 is normal but higher than ideal. A diastolic blood pressure number of 90 or higher, on repeated measurements, is considered to be hypertension or high blood pressure.

Understanding Your Blood Pressure

Image © http://www.bloodpressureuk.org

How Blood Pressure Measured:

Blood pressure is measured with a simple painless test usually using an electronic blood pressure monitor. This consists of an inflatable cuff that is wrapped around the upper arm (some blood pressure cuffs wrap around the forearm or wrist) and is attached to an electronic monitor that gives a digital readout of the blood pressure and pulse.

The systolic blood pressure number is always said first, and then the diastolic blood pressure number is given. For example, your blood pressure may be read as “120 over 80” or written 120/80.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). However, usually the “mmHg” is not used when reporting the blood pressure.

How often should the Blood Pressure Checked:

  • If your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80), get it checked at least once every five years. However, as you get older your blood pressure is likely to increase and you should be checked more often, as frequently as your doctor suggests.
  • If your blood pressure is borderline high – systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 or diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89 – get it checked at least once a year, or more often as your doctor suggests.
  • If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, talk to your doctor as this is high blood pressure and requires a doctor’s attention.
Monitoring blood pressure at home is important for many people, especially if you have high blood pressure. This helps you and your doctor track your blood pressure more closely to determine if treatment is keeping it controlled.
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