How Blood Pressure Is Measured
Blood pressure testing stations can be found in pharmacies, workplaces, and medical clinics. You can also buy a blood pressure monitor online or at your local pharmacy.
To measure blood pressure, a cuff attached to a monitor is placed on your arm. The cuff is then inflated with an air pump until its pressure stops blood flow from your brachial arterythe major artery found in your upper arm.
As the cuff deflates, the device measures the pressure when blood starts flowing again . Once the cuff is completely deflated, the device gauges the lowest pressure between beats .
Typically, more attention is given to the systolic pressure reading, as systolic blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease in people over the age of 50. Still, both readings are used to make a diagnosis.
Your Blood Pressure Is 120/: Which Number Indicates Systolic Pressure
As explained in the previous slide, the systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading. Thus, if your blood pressure is measured as 120/80, your systolic pressure is 120. Verbally, your doctor may say your blood pressure is “120 over 80.” While both the systolic and diastolic numbers are important, the systolic measurement is usually given more attention because a high systolic reading can indicate a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, especially in people over age 50.
What Does A Blood Pressure Reading Look Like
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.
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What Is Normal Blood Pressure For Women
Did you know high blood pressure is common among women? Especially for women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. In fact, women who have gone through menopause are at an even greater risk.
Health Harvard explains, By the time they reach their 60s and 70s, 70% of women have high blood pressure. After age 75, that figure rises to nearly 80%, according to the CDC. This is why prevention is so important! Here are the normal blood pressure readings for women by age:
- Age 18-29
- Age 40-59
- Age 60+
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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What Do Blood Pressure Readings Mean
Blood pressure readings can vary in a single person throughout the day depending on the situation. Factors such as stress, anxiety, foods are eaten , smoking or exercise can cause pressure to rise.
The American Heart Association defines normal blood pressure as less than 120/80. Elevated blood pressure ranges between 120/80 and 129/80, and high blood pressure is 130/80 and higher. In pregnancy, normal blood pressure should be below 120/80.
If your blood pressure reaches the high range, you should see your doctor about lifestyle changes, and possibly medication especially if you have other risk factors, such as diabetes or heart disease.
High blood pressure may indicate an emergency situation. If this high blood pressure is associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, or back or abdominal pain, seek medical care immediately. If you are experiencing no associated symptoms with a high blood pressure reading such as this, re-check it again within a few minutes and contact your doctor or go to an emergency room if it is still high.
If your blood pressure is lower than about 100/60 you may have low blood pressure, depending on the associated symptoms. If you are unsure, check with your doctor.
Stroke And Brain Problems
High blood pressure can cause the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain to burst or be blocked, causing a stroke. Brain cells die during a stroke because they do not get enough oxygen. Stroke can cause serious disabilities in speech, movement, and other basic activities. A stroke can also kill you.
Having high blood pressure, especially in midlife, is linked to having poorer cognitive function and dementia later in life. Learn more about the link between high blood pressure and dementia from the National Institutes of Healths Mind Your Risks®external icon campaign.
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How To Get Accurate Blood Pressure Readings At Home
Your medical provider may recommend taking your blood pressure at home because of white coat hypertension. White coat hypertension means the stress of being at the doctors office raises your blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends the following guidelines for measuring blood pressure:
High Systolic Blood Pressure
The heart muscle pushes out blood with higher pressure when a person is exercising, under stress, or at similar times when the heart rate is increased. The systolic pressure goes up with it.
In these cases, the increased pressure is normal. However, when the pressure is high while a person is resting, that’s considered high blood pressure.
That’s why it is so important to take your blood pressure during periods of quiet rest to diagnose hypertension, or high blood pressure.
High systolic blood pressure is usually caused by narrowing of the arteries, which makes the heart have to work harder to push blood through.
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Why Does Blood Pressure Increase With Age
Doctors dont completely understand why blood pressure tends to rise with age. Blood pressure is the force of blood as it flows through the arteries. As you age, your arteries may narrow and become stiff. Narrow arteries lead to an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the walls of the arteries and the heart itself.
In some cases, high blood pressure could be a result of lifestyle, the environment, certain medications, or other conditions such as sleep apnea, kidney disease, or thyroid problems.
Does Sprint Mean New Blood Pressure Guidelines
Briefly, no. Or in any case, not yet. Thats in part because guidelines are the result of some expert group going through a very careful process of evidence review and synthesis. So it will take a while before any reputable group can synthesize SPRINT into the existing medical evidence, and finalize guidelines to be released to clinicians and the public.
Now, that doesnt mean that some doctors wont be attempting to get patients to a lower blood pressure goal right away. But its not clear that this should be done for most patients, and at a minimum, people should know that if they are like the SPRINT participants which they probably arent aiming for the lower BP goal likely gives them a 0.5%-1.5% chance of avoiding a bad health outcome.
In fact, I thought it was quite funny that the NYT headline reporting on SPRINT proclaimed Data on Benefits of Lower Blood Pressure Brings Clarity for Doctors and Patients, because many doctors have gone on the record with a more nuanced assessment. The NYT itself published a sensible commentary by a well-regarded cardiologist, Dr. Harlan Krumholz, which I would highly recommend: 3 Things to Know About the Sprint Blood Pressure Trial.
Personally, I agree with Dr. Krumholzs conclusions:
In terms of my personal practice: I see a lot of older people who are worried about falls, and a well-done study published in 2014 found that blood pressure treatment was associated with serious as in, bone breaking falls.
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Taking Your Pulse Versus Checking Your Blood Pressure
While both are indications of health, blood pressure and heart rate are two separate measurements. Learn more about the difference between blood pressure and heart rate.
Systolic is less than 120 and my diastolic is less than 80
Great job! Your blood pressure is normal. To keep your readings in this range, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Systolic is 120 129 and my diastolic is less than 80
The good news is that you dont have high blood pressure. However, your numbers fall within the Elevated category, making you more likely to develop high blood pressure unless you take action to control it. Ready to make some small changes that have big impacts? Healthy lifestyle choices are a great place to start.
Systolic is 130 139 or my diastolic is 80 89
You are in the first stage of hypertension, but there are actions you can take to get your blood pressure under control. Your doctor will speak to you about small changes that can make a big difference and other BP Raisers. In addition, monitoring blood pressure outside of the doctors office is important for BP control.
Systolic is 140 or higher or my diastolic is 90 or higher
Systolic is higher than 180 and/or my diastolic is higher than 120
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
How To Avoid Hypertension
Many factors come together to cause hypertension. While you cant change things like your age, genetics, or medical conditions there are many steps you can take every day to improve your numbers .
Start by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetable and decreasing your intake of salt. Excessive sodium consumption is of the number one controllable causes of the condition.
Its also important to control your weight and exercise frequently as well as avoid smoking and alcohol consumption. Other factors to consider include stress levels and nutritional deficiencies.
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What Are The Symptoms Of High Blood Pressure
The only way you can know for sure if you have high blood pressure is by having a nurse or doctor measure it. Monitoring your blood pressure at home also helps keep your blood pressure in check. Most often, high blood pressure is “silent,” meaning it has no other signs to warn you, according to the CDC.
How To Treat High Blood Pressure
If your doctor determines you do have high blood pressure they may recommend that you make some lifestyle changes. These changes are the same steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure like exercising, eating a healthy diet, and controlling your weight.
In some cases, lifestyle changes arent enough. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend medication to help lower your blood pressure. Speak with your doctor to have your blood pressure checked and to find out more ways to prevent high blood pressure from happening.
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Whats Considered High Blood Pressure In Pregnant People
High blood pressure can also occur during pregnancy. According to the , about 8 percent of people develop some form of hypertension while pregnant.
- Normal blood pressure during pregnancy is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic.
- Readings higher than 140 mm Hg systolic or 90 mm Hg diastolic are considered high.
There are two main categories of high blood pressure in pregnancy:
- Chronic hypertension. This is when blood pressure is high before you become pregnant or when high blood pressure develops before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. These types of high blood pressure problems are specific to pregnant people and typically develop after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These blood pressure issues typically disappear after you give birth.
Your doctor may prescribe medications if you have high blood pressure during pregnancy.
What If I Cant Locate My Pulse
If you cant locate your pulse in your wrist, try finding your pulse on your carotid artery or the other parts of your body where the pulse may be stronger. Be careful checking on your neck, though.
When checking the pulse on the carotid, we have to be a little bit cautious because if its pressed too hard, it can cause a reflex that leads to lightheadedness and dizziness or may even cause fainting, says Dr. Tilahun.
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What Is Hypertension
About 75 million people in the U.S.or one in three adultshave been diagnosed with hypertension, or high blood pressure. The force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is called blood pressure. Each time you experience a heartbeat, blood is being pumped into your arteries.
Blood pressure readings consist of two types of pressures:
- Systolic blood pressure is the highest pressure and occurs when the heart beats and pumps blood.
- Diastolic blood pressure is the lower pressure and is when the heart is at rest, between beats, and the pressure falls.
Blood pressure readings use the two numbers, usually with the systolic number before the diastolic number. For example, 125/85 would have a systolic pressure of 125 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of 85 mm Hg.
According to the American Heart Association, blood pressure is considered elevated when the systolic is 120 to 129 or higher or the diastolic is 80 or higher. Blood pressure readings above 180/120 are dangerously high and require prompt medical attention.
If blood pressure remains high over time, it causes the heart to work harder and pump harder over time, which can lead to serious health problems like kidney failure, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
When To See A Doctor
If a higher heart rate is a result of being under stress or consuming a lot of alcohol or caffeine, thats not typically a cause for alarm. However, these situations still warrant a discussion with your clinician, as they can discuss with you how to best address any necessary lifestyle changes.
Meanwhile, adults without an acute condition that might cause an elevated heart rate may also want to contact their doctor if their resting heart rate remains above 100 beats per minute for a few days, says Dr. Tilahun.
If the heart rate is persistently elevated for more than a few days and there is absence of a clear thing that can explain it, that should be a time to talk to your doctor, he says.
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High Blood Pressure And Older Adults
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High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major health problem that is common in older adults. Your bodys network of blood vessels, known as the vascular system, changes with age. Arteries get stiffer, causing blood pressure to go up. This can be true even for people who have heart-healthy habits and feel just fine. High blood pressure, sometimes called “the silent killer,” often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. Though it affects nearly half of all adults, many may not even be aware they have it.
If high blood pressure isn’t controlled with lifestyle changes and medication, it can lead to serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke, vascular dementia, eye problems, and kidney disease. The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled in most people.
How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed
To figure out your blood pressure rate, your health care provider takes blood pressure readings at different times. You need more than 1 reading because blood pressure changes depending on what you are doing and varies during the day. For example, your blood pressure can increase when you are nervous or in a hurry.
If your blood pressure is high while with your health care provider but normal otherwise, you may just be nervous. This effect is common. Even people already being treated for high blood pressure go through this.
What matters is what happens to your blood pressure outside your health care providers office. If you have high blood pressure, you should use a home blood pressure monitor. Ask your health care provider how to use the monitor correctly.
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Low Blood Pressure Symptoms
Low blood pressure is pressure so low it causes symptoms or signs due to the low flow of blood through the arteries and veins. When the flow of blood is too low to deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney, the organs do not function normally and may be temporarily or permanently damaged.
Unlike high blood pressure, low blood pressure is defined primarily by signs and symptoms of low blood flow and not by a specific blood pressure number. Some individuals routinely may have blood pressure numbers of 90/50 with no symptoms and therefore do not have low blood pressure. However, others who normally have higher blood pressures may develop symptoms of low blood pressure if their blood pressure drops to 100/60.
During pregnancy, blood pressure tends to decrease. Normal blood pressure during pregnancy may be lower than 100/60. Your OB/GYN or Midwife should monitor your bood pressure if you are pregnant.