Blood Pressure Readings
Blood Pressure Readings
What do blood pressure readings mean? The top or “systolic” number measures blood pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and pumps blood out to the body. The bottom or “diastolic” number measures blood pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, when the heart muscle is refilling with blood. An example of a typical blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. 120 is the systolic reading, and 80 is the diastolic reading. The abbreviation mmHg stands for millimeters of mercury, the unit used to measure blood pressures.
Normal – Elevated Readings
A normal blood pressure is a systolic reading below 120 and a diastolic reading below 80 mmHg. Elevated blood pressure is when systolic readings measure from 120-129 and diastolic readings are less than 80 mmHg. It is important to take steps to control blood pressure when it is elevated in this range.
The following lifestyle changes can positively impact your blood pressure if your readings are elevated, and your risk of complications from elevated readings:
- Quit tobacco if you use it: Every cigarette you smoke, temporarily increases your blood pressure. In addition, smoking also causes long-term damage to blood vessels increasing the chance of developing problems like stroke, heart disease, and heart attack.
- Eat less salt (sodium): If you have high blood pressure, even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can and reduce blood pressure by about 5 -6 mm Hg. The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to 2300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. In some people, an even lower sodium intake of 1500 mg a day is preferred.
- Lose weight if you are overweight: For every pound lost, you could decrease your systolic blood pressure by up to 1 mm Hg.
- Try to get about 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week – this can lower your blood pressure by about 5-8 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nonfat dairy and which limits saturated fats can help lower your blood pressure. This diet is known as the DASH diet.
- Limit alcohol: Limit to 2 drinks per day for men, and 1 drink per day for women.
Hypertension Stage 1
When blood pressure is consistently ranging from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic, we call this HTN Stage 1. At this stage of hypertension, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication.
Hypertension Stage 2
Stage 2 is when blood pressure is consistently at or above 140/90 mm Hg. At this stage, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications (often more than one) along with lifestyle changes.
Hypertensive crisis requires immediate medical attention
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 9-1-1.
Approximately one third of adults in the United States have some degree of hypertension. The following are some common risk factors that can lead to high blood pressure:
- A diet high in salt, fat, and/or cholesterol
- Chronic medical conditions such as kidney and hormone problems, diabetes and high cholesterol
- Family history: You are more likely to have high blood pressure if your parents or other close relatives have it.
- Lack of physical activity
- Older age: The older you are, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure.
- Being overweight or obese
- Tobacco use or drinking too much alcohol
Most people with high blood pressure do not have any symptoms. This is why it’s sometimes called “the silent killer” and why it is so important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If left untreated, hypertension can damage many parts of the body and increase a person’s risk for stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure.
You can have your blood pressure measured at, PhysicianOne Urgent Care centers in Massachusetts and New York. This is a free service we provide and will not be billed to insurance.
If your blood pressure is found to be high, getting serious about lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise, smoking cessation and weight reduction can be very effective in reducing, even eliminating hypertension. If lifestyle changes alone don’t drop your blood pressure low enough, your doctor can prescribe medication to treat this condition.
More information on blood pressure and hypertension can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/