Blood Pressure: Know Your Numbers

Exactly what is blood pressure? Every doctor visit begins with blood pressure checks, a shaking of the head or a smile and a pat on the shoulder. What does all this mean? “Your top number is good; the bottom number is a bit off.” Knowing what these numbers mean can actually contribute to your good health or give you cause for concern. The top number on the blood pressure scale is the systolic and the bottom number is the diastolic. To understand blood pressure, examine what systolic and diastolic pressures mean.

What is Systolic Blood Pressure?

As the heart beats, it tightens and thrusts blood through arteries and throughout your body. This force causes actual pressure on the arteries. Normal systolic blood pressure should be 120 and below. If you have a systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 you probably have prehypertension or marginal high blood pressure. This can alert you and your doctor to possible impending heart diseases. If you have a systolic blood pressure reading of 140 or above you definitely have high blood pressure.

What is Diastolic Blood Pressure?

The diastolic blood pressure reading or the lower number is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats. Normal diastolic blood press should be 80 or less. Diastolic blood pressure that is 80 and above to 90 is prehypertension and 90 or higher is high blood pressure. Systolic and diastolic usually go hand in hand – when one is high the other is generally high.

How is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure is calculated by using a blood pressure cuff. The inflatable cuff is positioned around your upper arm and a pressure gage measures the pressure. At the same time a stethoscope is used to listen to flood flow in your arteries. A blood pressure cuff is inflated and the systolic pressure is heard. When the cuff is deflated, you hear a whooshing sound or the diastolic pressure.

If your blood pressure is standard or 120/80, you need to have it verified every two years. If you have borderline high blood pressure having it checked at least once a year is advisable. High blood pressure at 140/90 or above will require blood pressure checks every six months or more and medication plus attention is necessary to prevent heart diseases, kidney damage and strokes. As a note, blood pressure will not alert you with symptoms until you have a heart attack, stroke or kidney problems.


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