What Your Blood Pressure Reading Means - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on May 18, 2016

Know Your Numbers: What Your Blood Pressure Reading Means

When a doctor or nurse takes your blood pressure, they rattle of the numbers of your blood pressure reading, but do you know what those numbers mean?

In healthy individuals, a normal blood
pressure range helps prevent the blood
vessel walls from becoming damaged
or stretched out.

When you go for a routine doctor’s visit and your doctor or a nurse wraps a wrap the blood pressure cuff around your upper arm, inflates it and listens carefully through their stethoscope, you know they’re checking your blood pressure. But, when they rattle of the numbers of your blood pressure reading, do you know what they mean?

What Do the Numbers Mean?

The two numbers they tell you are your systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers. Knowing both numbers is important and could potentially save your life. That’s because hypertension, or high blood pressure, has no symptoms to signal you there’s an issue. And leaving high blood pressure untreated could lead to heart disease, stroke, eye problems, chronic kidney disease and more.

First, your systolic blood pressure number, or the top number, measures the pressure in the arteries when your heart beats, contracting and pushing blood through the arteries to the rest of your body.

A normal systolic blood pressure is below 120. If this number is 120 to 139, it means you have prehypertension or borderline high blood pressure, which can put you at a greater risk of developing heart disease. If this number is 140 or higher, it’s considered to be high blood pressure.

Your diastolic blood pressure number, or the bottom number, is the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. A diastolic blood pressure number is considered normal when it’s less than 80. If this number is between 80 and 89, it indicates prehypertension. And if it’s 90 or higher, it’s considered high blood pressure.

How Does It Work?

So how does your doctor or nurse determine your blood pressure numbers?

When they inflate the cuff on your arm, they inflate it to a pressure that’s known to be higher than your systolic blood pressure. When they deflate the cuff, the first sound they hear through their stethoscope, a whooshing noise, is your systolic blood pressure. When this whooshing sound goes away, that indicates your diastolic blood pressure.

Just like how your doctor or nurse hears your systolic blood pressure first, that’s the first number they say and then the diastolic blood pressure number.

What’s Normal Blood Pressure?

If your blood pressure is normal, or less than 120/80, you should get it checked at least every two years or as frequently as your doctor recommends. If you have borderline high blood pressure with systolic between 120 and 139 or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89, you should get it checked at least every year or more often if your doctor advises. In some cases, this number might be considered too high, especially depending on the presence of other medical issues.

If you have high blood pressure, or 140/90 or higher, your doctor will advise you on what lifestyle changes you need to make to lower this number, as well as whether you could benefit from blood pressure lowering medications.

The most common conditions that contribute to high blood pressure include smoking, a lack of exercise and physical activity, being overweight, consuming too much alcohol and excessive sodium intake. Family history, age and even race serve as risk factors for high blood pressure.

When someone has high blood pressure, their heart begins pumping an increasing amount of blood, which creates a force that pushes on the arterial walls and ultimately damages them. Damaged arterial walls can lead to heart damage or failure, vascular scarring, blood clots, plaque buildup and tissue and organ damage.

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