What Your Blood Pressure Numbers Mean
Blood pressure is the force that blood applies to the walls of arteries as it’s pumped throughout the body.
“Your arteries are built to withstand some pressure, but there’s a limit to what they can handle,” says Dr. Nasir.
This is why blood pressure is measured and segmented based on how it affects our health. The four blood pressure categories are:
- Normal blood pressure: Lower than 120/80 mmHg
- Elevated blood pressure: Between 120-129/80 mmHg
- High blood pressure, stage 1: Between 130-139/80-90 mmHg
- High blood pressure, stage 2: 140/90 mmHg or higher
Only normal blood pressure is considered healthy. Having elevated or high blood pressure damages your heart and arteries by:
- Forcing your heart to pump harder. Over time, this causes heart muscle to thicken, making it harder for the heart to fill with and pump blood.
- Narrowing and hardening your arteries. This can limit the normal flow of blood.
Whats Considered Elevated Blood Pressure
Blood pressure numbers that are higher than 120/80 mm Hg are a warning sign. It means you need to pay attention to your blood pressure and focus on heart-healthy habits.
Although these numbers arent technically considered high blood pressure, youve moved out of the normal range. Elevated blood pressure may turn into high blood pressure, which puts you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Elevated blood pressure
When your systolic pressure is between 120 and 129mm Hgand your diastolic pressure is less than 80mm Hg, it means you have elevated blood pressure.
No medications are necessary for elevated blood pressure. But your doctor may talk with you about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, such as getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and managing your weight.
You may receive a diagnosis of stage 1 hypertension if:
- your systolic blood pressure is between 130 and 139 mm Hg, or
- your diastolic blood pressure is between 80 and 89 mm Hg
However, the AHA notes that if you get only one reading this high, you may not truly have stage 1 hypertension. What determines the diagnosis of hypertension at any stage is the average of your blood pressure numbers over a period of time.
Your doctor can help you measure and track your blood pressure to confirm whether its too high.
Stage 1 hypertension
If your systolic blood pressure is 130 to 139 mm Hgor your diastolic blood pressure is 80 to 89 mm Hg, its considered stage 1 hypertension.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it typically has no symptoms. In fact, most people dont even realize they have hypertension until their blood pressure is monitored.
Symptoms dont develop until the numbers get very high and organs get damaged, often irreversibly, says Dr. Desai.
If you have severe hypertension, you might notice the below symptoms, some of which were reported by patients in a study in the British Journal of General PracticeGoodhart A. Hypertension from the patients perspective. British Journal of General Practice. 2016 66:570. :
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What Does High Blood Pressure Feel Like
High blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, so you usually don’t feel it. Thats why its important to stay up to date on your preventive care screenings can help identify potential problems like elevated blood pressure when its easiest to treat.
If your blood pressure reaches extremely high levels, you may get a headache, shortness of breath or a nosebleed. However, these symptoms may not be specific to your blood pressure. Critically high blood pressure can be caused by conditions that can have similar symptoms, like strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney failure or certain drug interactions.
What Defines High Blood Pressure
According to the American Heart Association, there are clear ranges of normal and abnormal blood pressure. A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measured the pressure on artery walls while the heart is pumping blood. Diastolic measures the pressure during the rest in between beats.
- Normal blood pressure: 120 over 80
- Elevated blood pressure: 120-129 over less than 80
- Hypertension stage 1: 130-139 over 80-89
- Hypertension stage 2: 140 or higher over 90 or higher
- Hypertensive Crisis: higher than 180 over higher than 120
These numbers do not vary from person to person, no matter what other factors make them different.
Blood pressure can elevate due to a dramatic change in temperature or a moment of stress. For this reason, hypertension is not usually diagnosed by one reading. If when tested you present an elevated blood pressure, often you will test again a few minutes later. Official hypertension is usually diagnosed after a series of high readings. It is important to pay attention to your blood pressure measurements and you should check it often if your blood pressure is high.
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How To Take Blood Pressure
You can take your blood pressure at home using a wrist blood pressure monitor or an upper arm cuff blood pressure monitor. Experts typically recommend upper arm cuffs because they are the most accurate. Upper arm cuffs can come with either a manual or digital monitor. Both work well, but if youre measuring your blood pressure on your own regularly, a digital one will likely be easiest to use correctly.
To take your blood pressure accurately with a digital upper arm cuff, start by sitting quietly in an upright position for a few minutes, allowing your body a moment to relax. Be mindful to uncross your legs and ankles, as well as use comfortable support for your back.
With the monitor sitting on a table in front of you, place your arm next to itat approximately heart leveland place the cuff around your bare upper arm about one inch above your elbow. Secure the cuff so that you can only slide a fingertip under the top edge.
Next, simply turn on the monitor, press the start button, and take normal breaths as the cuff inflates and deflates, measuring your blood pressure and producing your reading on the screen.
How Blood Pressure Is Measured
It is best to measure blood pressure when you are relaxed and sitting. Blood pressure is usually measured by wrapping an inflatable pressure cuff around your upper arm.
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, such as 120/80. The larger number indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps out blood during each beat. This is called the systolic blood pressure.
The lower number indicates the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat. This is called the diastolic blood pressure. Both are measured in units called millimetres of mercury .
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What Is Secondary Hypertension
When a direct cause for high blood pressure can be identified, that’s secondary hypertension. Kidney disease is the most common cause.
Hypertension can also be brought on by tumors or conditions that cause the adrenal glands to release large amounts of hormones that raise blood pressure.
Birth control pills — specifically those that have estrogen — and pregnancy can boost blood pressure. Other medicines can, too. Check with your doctor to see if anything you take may cause your numbers to go up.
High Blood Pressure In Adults
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force exerted against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood to your body. Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure.
Untreated high blood pressure can lead to many medical problems. These include heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, eye problems, and other health issues.
Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers. The top number is called systolic blood pressure. The bottom number is called diastolic blood pressure. For example, 120 over 80 .
One or both of these numbers can be too high.
- Normal blood pressure is when your blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mm Hg most of the time.
- High blood pressure is when one or both of your blood pressure readings are higher than 130/80 mm Hg most of the time.
- If the top blood pressure number is between 120 and 130 mm Hg, and the bottom blood pressure number is less than 80 mm Hg, it is called elevated blood pressure.
If you have heart or kidney problems, or you had a stroke, your doctor may want your blood pressure to be even lower than that of people who do not have these conditions.
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What Are The Complications Of Uncontrolled Hypertension
- Chest pain, also called angina.
- Heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked and heart muscle cells die from lack of oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.
- Heart failure, which occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to other vital body organs.
- Irregular heart beat which can lead to a sudden death.
What Can I Do If I Find Out My Blood Pressure Is Dangerously High
Normally, high blood pressure, sometimes called the silent killer, has few symptoms. But sometimes, a patient may be prompted to check their blood pressure because of troubling symptoms like headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and loss of balance. These may be signs of dangerously high blood pressure, also known as a hypertensive crisiswhen your first blood pressure number is greater than 180 or your second number is greater than 120.
In this scenario, do NOT try to lower your blood pressure on your own. A hypertensive crisis is an emergency situation that can end in death, so someone nearby should call 9-1-1 immediately. Emergency personnel will begin the process of lowering your blood pressure in the ambulance while on the way to the hospital. Even then, they will follow guidelines on how quickly they can safely lower your blood pressure and will monitor your blood pressure closely.
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How Can You Reduce Your Risk Of High Blood Pressure
Fortunately, there are certain things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure. These include the following:
- Eat right: A healthy diet is an important step in keeping your blood pressure normal. The DASH diet emphasizes adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet while reducing the amount of sodium. Since its rich in fruits and vegetables, which are naturally lower in sodium than many other foods, the DASH diet makes it easier to eat less salt and sodium.
- Keep a healthy weight: Going hand-in-hand with a proper diet is keeping a healthy weight. Since being overweight increases your blood pressure, losing excess weight with diet and exercise will help lower your blood pressure to healthier levels.
- Cut down on salt: The recommendation for salt in your diet is to have less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day . To prevent hypertension, you should keep your salt intake below this level. Dont forget that most restaurant foods and many processed and frozen foods contain high levels of salt. Use herbs and spices that do not contain salt in recipes to flavor your food do not add salt at the table.
- Keep active: Even simple physical activities, such as walking, can lower your blood pressure .
- Drinkalcoholin moderation: Having more than one drink a day and two drinks a day can raise blood pressure.
What Causes Low Blood Pressure
There are many possible reasons for low blood pressure, according to both Dr. Wong and Dr. Desai, including:
- Heart problems like heart failure or low heart rates
- Endocrine problems, such as parathyroid disease, adrenal insufficiency or hypoglycemia
- Side effects of medications for high blood pressure, prostatic hypertrophy, Parkinsons disease, depression and erectile dysfunction
- Massive weight loss
- Rapid heart rate
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Prevention And Management Of Low Diastolic Blood Pressure
There are some things you can do to help prevent and manage low diastolic pressure.
- Try to keep your salt intake to between 1.5 and 4 grams per day. An ideal number is probably about 3.5 grams. You can do this by reading food labels and avoiding added salt in your diet.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and include whole grains. For protein, stick to lean meats and fish. Avoid fatty foods.
- Drink enough fluids and avoid alcohol, which can increase your risk for dehydration.
- Stay physically active and start an exercise program. Ask your doctor what type and amount of exercise is safe for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If youre overweight, ask your doctor to help you with a safe weight loss plan.
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Risk Of Injury From Falls
If your blood pressure is low enough, the drop can cause symptoms such as fainting or dizziness.This causes a significant risk of falling since youre not conscious to stop the fall. Additionally, youre not aware of how badly youve injured yourself during a fainting spell. This can lead to serious injuries, such as head trauma from hitting your head.
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How Common Is High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a common condition, it is estimated that 18% of adult men and 13% of adult women have high blood pressure but are not getting treatment for it.
In 90-95% of cases, there is no single identifiable reason for a rise in blood pressure. But all available evidence shows that lifestyle plays a significant role in regulating your blood pressure.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include:
- being overweight
- excessive alcohol consumption.
Also, for reasons not fully understood, people of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian origin are more likely to develop high blood pressure than other ethnic groups.
How Often Should You Get Your Blood Pressure Checked
If your blood pressure is higher than it should be, follow your doctors advice with regard to how often you should check your blood pressure at home. Also find out from your doctor what you should do if your blood pressure readings are higher than usual.
If you dont have high blood pressure, its still important to get it checked regularly, as blood pressure can change over time. Medical experts suggest the following timeline for low risk individuals:
- For people between 18 and 40. Get your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years.
- For anyone over 40. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year.
You may need to have your blood pressure checked more regularly if you:
- have a family history of hypertension
- have heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease
- are overweight or have obesity
- have sleep apnea or insomnia
You dont necessarily have to get your blood pressure checked at your doctors office. Some health care clinics do free blood pressure screenings. You may also schedule an appointment at your local pharmacy.
Untreated and uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and other organs, including your heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain.
Complications of hypertension can include:
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Variations In Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure changes to meet your bodys needs. If a reading is high, your doctor may measure your blood pressure again on several separate occasions to confirm the level.
Your doctor may also recommend that you measure your blood pressure at home or have a 24-hour recording with a monitoring device.
Rising Numbers Can Be Dangerous
“We view a top number of 180 or more over anything over 120 as a possible sign of a ‘hypertensive crisis,’ and at that point we certainly have to be very concerned,” Dr. Lawrence says.
As Mayo Clinic researchers point out, blood pressure readings at that level threaten the integrity of blood vessels, which can become chronically inflamed. Once that happens, the vessels can start to leak fluid or blood, undermining the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood throughout the body.
The result could very well be a stroke or heart attack. Short of that, in some instances, a person in a state of hypertensive crisis may experience symptoms, including severe chest pain or headache, nausea, shortness of breath or even a seizure, explains Mayo Clinic. However, there’s no guarantee that any noticeable symptoms will arise.
The takeaway: Make blood pressure screenings part of your health care routine. The results can be literally life-saving.
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How Do I Lower My Blood Pressure
The steps to lower your blood pressure aren’t as painful as you may be thinking. If you smoke, you’ll need to stop. Otherwise, lowering your blood pressure is as easy as the “more of this, less of that” approach you’re used to hearing about, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, a loss of as few as 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure.
- Consuming low levels of salt. Keep your salt intake under 1,500 mg/day.
- Getting plenty of exercise. Try to exercise for at least 90 minutes every week.
- Limiting alcohol. Keep your alcohol intake to one drink per day if you’re a woman, or two drinks per day if you’re a man.
- Eating healthy. Aim for a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“Not only may young people be tempted to brush off their elevated or high blood pressure,” says Dr. Nasir, “but they are less likely to be diagnosed by doctors during their office visits. Apart from taking steps now to reduce risk factors down the road, its important to discuss with your doctor if your blood pressure is consistently high.”