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How To Read Blood Pressure Numbers

What Does A Blood Pressure Reading Look Like

High Blood Pressure: How to Understand the Numbers

When you have your , you will be given two numbers, a top number and a bottom number.

  • Systolic blood pressure. This is the first, or top, number. This is the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats, forcing blood around your body.
  • Diastolic blood pressure. The second number, or bottom number, is the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury . If the first number is 120 and the second number is 80, this would be written as 120/80mmHg, and youd call it 120 over 80.

This video explains more about systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Why Do I Need To Take Bp Readings

You may not have any signs or symptoms of high BP. You may need to take BP readings regularly to know how often your BP is high. High BP increases your risk for a stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease. You may need to take medicine to keep your BP at a normal level. Write down and keep a log of your BP readings. Your healthcare provider can use the results to see if your BP medicines are working.

Diagnosing High Or Low Blood Pressure

Only one of your numbers needs to be higher than it should be to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, and only one needs to be lower than it should be to be diagnosed with low blood pressure.

So if your top number is over 140 or the bottom number is over 90, you may be diagnosed with , regardless of the other number. If your top number is under 90 or your bottom number is under 60, you may be diagnosed with . Use the to see where your numbers sit.

If your top number is consistently higher than 140mmHg, but the bottom number is healthy – this is known as Isolated Systolic Hypertension. If the bottom number is consistently higher than 90mmHg but the top number is healthy – this is known as Isolated Diastolic Hypertension.

Making sure your readings arent a one-off

A single high reading doesnt necessarily mean you have high blood pressure, as many things can affect your blood pressure throughout the day, such as the temperature, when you last ate, and if youre feeling stressed.

Your doctor or nurse will probably want to measure your blood pressure a number of times over a few weeks to make sure the reading wasnt just a one off and that your blood pressure stays high over time.

Read about how , getting a , the you might have if you have a high blood pressure reading, and .

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Hypertensive Crisis: When You Should Call 911 For High Blood Pressure

A hypertensive crisis is when blood pressure rises quickly and severely with readings of 180/120 or greater.

The consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure in this range can be severe and include:

  • Pulmonary edema

An elevated reading may or may not be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Severe headache
  • Severe anxiety

How Blood Pressure Is Measured

Blood Pressure Readings Explained

A doctor or nurse will measure your blood pressure with a small gauge attached to an inflatable cuff. It’s simple and painless.

The person taking your blood pressure wraps the cuff around your upper arm. Some cuffs go around the forearm or wrist, but often they aren’t as accurate.

Your doctor or nurse will use a stethoscope to listen to the blood moving through your artery.

Theyâll inflate the cuff to a pressure higher than your systolic blood pressure, and it will tighten around your arm. Then theyâll release it. As the cuff deflates, the first sound they hear through the stethoscope is the systolic blood pressure. It sounds like a whooshing noise. The point where this noise goes away marks the diastolic blood pressure.

In a blood pressure reading, the systolic number always comes first, and then the diastolic number. For example, your numbers may be “120 over 80” or written as 120/80.

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Readings Detect Abnormal Blood Pressure In The Absence Of Symptoms

Blood pressure readings can be taken manually or with an automatic monitoring device. A cuff attached to a gauge is placed above the elbow of one arm and inflated with a hand pump . The inflated cuff stops the flow of blood through the artery in the arm so that a pulse can be clearly heard. The cuff is then slowly deflated, and a stethoscope is used to listen to the blood flowing through the artery. When the thumping of blood is heard, the systolic pressure is noted on the gauge. When the thumping stops, the diastolic pressure is noted.

Before You Measure Your Blood Pressure

  • Avoid things that can raise your blood pressure in the short term. Dont measure your blood pressure within half an hour of eating, smoking, drinking caffeinated drinks such as coffee, or exercising. These can all raise your blood pressure temporarily. If you need to use the toilet, go before you measure your blood pressure.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes. Wear a short-sleeved t-shirt or something with sleeves you can push up easily, nothing tight. This is so that you can fit the cuff around your arm.
  • Rest for five minutes before you take your reading. Sit down somewhere quiet, ideally at a desk or table. Have your back supported with your arm resting on a firm surface and your feet flat on the floor. Stay in this position while you take your blood pressure.
  • Make sure your arm is supported and at the same level as your heart. Position yourself so that your arm is resting on a surface and is at the same height as your heart. Keep your arm and hand relaxed, not tensed.
  • Make sure you are relaxed and comfortable. If you are anxious or uncomfortable, your blood pressure will rise temporarily.

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What Does The Systolic Blood Pressure Number Mean

When your heart beats, it squeezes and pushes blood through your arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on those blood vessels, and that’s your systolic blood pressure.

Hereâs how to understand your systolic blood pressure number:

  • Normal: Below 120
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure : 130-139
  • Stage 2 hypertension: 140 or more
  • Hypertensive crisis: 180 or more. Call 911.

What You Can Do

Blood Pressure Measurement: How to Check Blood Pressure Manually

Treatment varies depending on your numbers, family history and other factors, such as whether youve had a heart attack or stroke, or whether you suffer from diabetes or kidney disease.

But everyone with elevated readings can benefit from lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol and quitting smoking.

Like all lifestyle treatments, it takes a real commitment, Baker said.

This hard work does pay off, as results are usually seen in two or three months.

Ive seen people focus on their lifestyle and within three months, they see a five to 10 point drop, Baker said. You can see pretty quick results.

This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Feb. 5, 2018.

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Reading A Blood Pressure Chart

Your BP monitor will display two numbers. The first number is systolic blood pressure . The second number is diastolic blood pressure .

In Canada, the ideal or low-risk systolic pressure is 120 or less. By contrast, the optimal diastolic blood pressure is 80 or less. So, if your BP reading is 120/80 or 117/78, you have normal blood pressure levels.

Heart Rate Vs Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures the force that moves blood through your blood vessels while your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. They are both important health indicators, but they are measured independently and dont necessarily increase or decrease synchronously.

A temporary increase in heart rate, such as during exercise, is not considered problematic. In fact, your heart is expected to rise during a bout of activity and return to its resting rate afterward. And the more intense you work, the more you should expect your heart rate to rise during exercise. Your heart rate can safely double during activity so long as it returns to its resting rate relatively soon after you finish your workout.

Significant increases in blood pressure, on the other hand, are not normal and should be monitored and shared with your health care provider.

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Know Your Blood Pressure Numbers

To manage your blood pressure, you need to know which blood pressure numbers are ideal and which ones are cause for concern.

In general, meeting the criteria for hypotension has more to do with symptoms and specific situations than with exact numbers. But institutions like the and the United Kingdoms National Health Service consider people hypotensive if their blood pressure falls within this range:

Systolic blood pressure in mm Hg Diastolic blood pressure in mm Hg Blood pressure category
And 60 or below Hypotension

The numbers for hypotension serve as a guide, while the numbers for hypertension are more precise. According to the , these ranges represent normal, elevated, or high blood pressure:

Systolic blood pressure in mm Hg Diastolic blood pressure in mm Hg Blood pressure category
higher than 120 Hypertensive crisis

When looking at these numbers, notice that only one of them needs to be too high to put you in a hypertensive category. For example, if your blood pressure is 119/81, youd be considered to have stage 1 hypertension.

How Is High Blood Pressure Treated

What Do Blood Pressure Readings Mean?

Treatment for hypertension depends on how high your blood pressure is, as well as your lifestyle and risk factors.

For elevated blood pressure, the goal is to keep your blood pressure from developing into clinical hypertension. No medications are necessary at this stage. Your doctor may recommend:

For stage 1 hypertension, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes as mentioned above, as well as:

  • reducing your sodium intake
  • finding healthy ways to manage your stress
  • medication, if your blood pressure doesnt improve after 1 month of lifestyle changes

For stage 2 hypertension, the typical treatment, in addition to a healthier lifestyle, is medication. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications to help lower your blood pressure:

A hypertensive crisis requires immediate treatment. Medications may be given orally or intravenously .

The most for a hypertensive crisis include:

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If You Get A High Blood Pressure Reading

  • A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. If you get a reading that is slightly or moderately higher than normal, take your blood pressure a few more times and consult your healthcare professional to verify if there s a health concern or whether there may be any issues with your monitor.
  • If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
  • If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.

Why Monitor At Home

There are a few reasons why you may be monitoring your blood pressure at home.

  • It can increase accountability and motivation, just as weighing for yourself when trying to lose weight can do.
  • Having so many readings gives you the opportunity to learn your personal patterns and what may affect your blood pressure. Using Lark can increase your understanding as it explains trends and offers insights.
  • Creates a history that you can show your doctor in case treatment or prescriptions need to change. Lark also helps with this as your history is easy to send to your doctor.

Participants in Lark who used a home blood pressure monitor along with Larks health coaching, on average, experienced a decrease in systolic blood pressure of over 8 mm Hg thats enough to reduce the risk of a stroke by over 30%!

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Which Measurement Is Most Important

Its most useful to track systolic blood pressure, and systolic pressure is the basis for most guidelines, says Willie Lawrence, MD, chairman of the oversight committee of the American Heart Associations National Hypertension Control Initiative and medical director of the Center for Better Health and Cardiovascular Wellness in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Increases in systolic pressure are more consistently associated with increases in disease risk when compared with diastolic blood pressure, according to the latest guidelines on blood pressure targets.

Still, elevated diastolic pressure is also a risk factor for disease. If you have, for example, normal systolic pressure but stage 1 diastolic hypertension, you would be diagnosed with stage 1 hypertension, according to current guidelines.

As for your pulse reading, theres no hard and fast ideal number for your heart rate. Its considered an indicator of how efficiently your heart can pump blood through your body, so a lower heart rate while at rest is generally an indicator of better physical fitness. But Lawrence says theres no definitive target for it the way there is for blood pressure. Still, when you track it over time, changes in your normal heart rate could help indicate a heart condition, according to the American Heart Association.

How To Read Blood Pressure Numbers

How Blood Pressure Readings Work

Now lets explore the measurement. Blood pressure is always shown as two numbers. Use 120 over 80, which is written as 120/80 mm Hg , as an example. The 120 is the top number and is known as systolic blood pressure. It represents the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The 80 is the bottom number and is known as diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure measured between your heartbeats when your heart is relaxing.

While both numbers are important, the American Heart Association notes the top number usually gets more attention. Thats because it helps show your risk of having a stroke or heart attack, along with kidney disease, congestive heart failure, vision loss and memory loss.

A high systolic reading is considered a major heart disease risk factor for people older than 50. As we age, arteries can become stiff and develop plaque buildup. In other words, if your blood is essentially punching the walls inside your heart, over and over again, damage will eventually occur.

Heres how the American Heart Association categorizes blood pressure levels.

  • Normal: systolic less than 120 and diastolic less than 80
  • Prehypertension: systolic 120-139 or diastolic 80-89
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: systolic 140-159 or diastolic 90-99
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: systolic 160 or higher or diastolic 100 or higher
  • Hypertensive crisis : systolic higher than 180 or diastolic higher than 110

Low blood pressure is typically not a problem unless you notice symptoms like:

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Blood Pressure: What Do The Numbers Mean And Why Do They Matter

Each time you go to the doctor, you get a blood pressure reading. You know the drill: a nurse places a cuff around your upper arm. The cuff squeezes, putting pressure on your arm, and slowly releases.

Your blood pressure gives your doctor information about your overall health, as well as your health risks. But what do the numbers actually mean? And how does high blood pressure affect your health?

How To Read A Blood Pressure Monitor

How to interpret the three key metrics you see on your deviceplus tips on getting accurate readings

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Getting an accurate reading on a home blood pressure monitor requires a certain amount of effort. First off, you need an accurate device. Resources like CRs blood pressure monitor ratings and the American Medical Associations Validated Device Listing can help you find a good one.

Then there are important steps to take, once you have your monitor, to make sure your readings are accurate.

But what do the readings on a blood pressure monitor mean? We break down the three key metrics displayed on home blood pressure monitors.

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What Do The Numbers Mean

When a healthcare professional takes your blood pressure, its expressed as a measurement with two numbers, one number on top and one on the bottom , like a fraction. For example, 120/80 mm Hg.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. Thats what the mm/Hg stands for. Heres what the numbers mean:

  • Your systolic pressure is the pressure of the blood in your arteries when your heart contracts or beats.
  • Your diastolic pressure is the pressure of the blood in your arteries between beats, when your heart relaxes.

Both numbers are important in determining the state of your heart health.

Numbers greater than the ideal range may be a sign that your heart is working too hard to pump blood to the rest of your body.

For a normal reading, your blood pressure needs to show:

  • a systolic pressure thats above 90 mm Hg and less than 120 mm Hg, and
  • a diastolic pressure thats between 60 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg

The American Heart Association considers blood pressure to be within the normal range when both your systolic and diastolic numbers are in these ranges.

If youre in the normal range, no medical intervention is needed. However, its important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and moderate weight to help prevent high blood pressure from developing.

You may need to be even more mindful of your lifestyle if high blood pressure runs in your family.

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