High blood pressure is a common concern for aging adults and individuals with risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Whether you are an individual who has been instructed by your doctor to check your blood pressure regularly or you would like to know more about blood pressure readings that are taken at your doctor’s office, here’s some helpful info:
What is blood pressure?
First, you should understand what the readings measure. An individual’s blood pressure is a measure of how hard the blood pushes as it moves through the arteries. For most people, blood pressure levels vary throughout the day depending factors like activity level and stress level. An individual who has consistently high readings is diagnosed with high blood pressure. A higher than normal blood pressure over time leads to damage to the heart, blood vessels and kidneys and may cause a heart attack or stroke.
What are blood pressure readings?
It consists of two numbers:
- Systolic, or the top number, is a measure of the level of pressure in the arteries as the heart beats.
- Diastolic, or the bottom number, is a measure of the level of pressure in the arteries between heartbeats when the heart is resting.
- A heart rate of 120/80 is expressed as a blood pressure of 120 over 80.
What does my reading mean?
The American Heart Association set the blood pressure categories of risk:
- Less than 120/80 is considered a normal reading
- A systolic reading of 120-139 or a diastolic reading of 80-89 is considered prehypertension
- A systolic reading above 140 or a diastolic reading above 90 is called hypertension
- A person with a reading above 180/110 is in need of emergency care
What does it mean if I have high blood pressure?
A blood pressure reading in the prehypertension range typically does not warrant immediate action. Instead, a doctor will likely ask you to continue to regularly monitor your blood pressure levels at varying times of the day. Prehypertension may also be a sign that you should work to alleviate causes of high blood pressure, including being overweight, consuming excess sodium and drinking too much alcohol.
A consistent reading at the hypertension level is likely to warrant treatment. Some patients work on changes to diet, personal habits and exercise to control high blood pressure, but medication may be needed if lifestyle changes do not work.