Understanding Blood Pressure Readings

May 7, 2018
Understanding Blood Pressure Readings

Every time your heart beats, blood is pumped through arteries to the rest of your body. The force of the blood moving through the arteries is your blood pressure. Blood pressure readings are measured by two numbers, systolic pressure over diastolic pressure (for example 120/80).
When the heart beats, it contracts, and forces blood through your arteries, which makes your blood pressure go up. This is the systolic blood pressure. When the heart relaxes between beats, the pressure in the arteries goes down. This is the diastolic blood pressure.
Your blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day and varies during activities. If you are sick, nervous or in pain, it is common for your blood pressure to be higher than usual. Blood pressure that is high only one time does not mean that you have high blood pressure (hypertension).
High blood pressure makes your heart work harder than it should. Even though you cannot feel it, elevated blood pressure can damage your arteries, increasing your risk for disease in many organs.
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.
The following provides a general guide for blood pressure readings:

  • Less than 120 and less than 80 (Normal)
  • 120-129 and less than 80 (Elevated)
  • 130 – 139 or 80 – 89 (High blood pressure; hypertension stage 1)
  • 140 and higher or 90 and higher (High blood pressure; hypertension stage 2)
  • Higher than 180 systolic or Higher than 120 diastolic (Hypertensive Crisis – Emergency care needed)

With that being said, a single high reading doesn’t necessarily indicate high blood pressure. While blood pressure should normally fall below 120/80 mm Hg for adults over the age of 20, changes in exercise, sleep, posture and stress can impact the numbers. That said, if readings remain at 140/90 mm Hg or above over time, your physician is likely to recommend a treatment program centered on prescription medication and lifestyle changes.
Who Is at Risk?
In most people, systolic blood pressure increases steadily with age, thanks to long-term build-up of plaque and stiffness of arteries. Genetics also play a major role in determining a person’s risk, along with lifestyle choices involving diet and exercise. Your doctor can help determine your risk and come up with a plan to reduce your chances of developing hypertension.
Things to Consider
Usually, physicians pay more attention to systolic blood pressure as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease in people over 50. To better determine whether you have high blood pressure, your physician may ask you to take intermittent readings at home during different times of the day.
In most cases, relatively high readings are not cause for immediate concern; however, if you record a systolic reading of 180 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic reading of 110 mm HG or higher, visit the ER immediately, since this indicates a hypertensive crisis, requiring emergency medical attention.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Unfortunately, most of the time people experience very few symptoms of hypertension, and therefore without measurement, it can easily go unchecked. However, with very high blood pressure, one might experience any of the following symptoms: headache, fatigue, confusion, vision problems, chest pain, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, blood in the urine, pounding in your chest, neck, or ears.
What Can Happen
If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause a range of serious and even fatal health problems, including:

  • Stroke
  • Vision loss
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of developing hypertension by making healthier lifestyle choices, including:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Eat foods low in salt, cholesterol, trans fat and saturated fat
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Get a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week

When to Seek Help
Everyone should get a yearly checkup to test for high blood pressure. In certain instances, however, emergency attention may become necessary. When blood pressure soars to dangerously high levels, deadly consequences can result. The most common signs of a hypertensive crisis include chest pain, severe headache, accompanied by confusion and blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, severe anxiety, shortness of breath, seizures, unresponsiveness. If you experience any of these symptoms seek emergency care right away.

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