Do you suffer from high blood pressure? It might be surprising, but high blood pressure or hypertension is actually one of the most commonly diagnosed health conditions for Americans. In fact, it is reported that 68 million Americans are currently living with high blood pressure.
Of equal concern is that, within this population, it is estimated that nearly 20% have yet to be diagnosed and are not aware of the potential problem. Undiagnosed cases of high blood pressure are a real concern as damage caused by high blood pressure takes place slowly over time.
Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to things like heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss and a host of other problems. In this article, we will unpack blood pressure and explain how to interpret readings you may get from a blood pressure monitor. Knowing if you have high blood pressure is extremely important. Taking accurate blood pressure readings and correctly understanding the results of those tests are crucial.
The basics of blood pressure
Having a healthy or normal blood pressure is a key pillar of maintaining your overall health, but many may not fully understand what the numbers associated with a blood pressure reading indicate. To best understand blood pressure readings, it's important to understand the basics of blood pressure.
In its most simple form, blood pressure is the force of blood circulating through the body as it exudes pressure on the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is a necessary function as your body needs the oxygenated blood that your heart pumps throughout the body. It is this pumping that creates pressure that pushes blood through blood vessels like arteries, veins and capillaries.
Blood pressure is typically expressed through two numbers. The first number is the systolic pressure with the second number being your diastolic pressure. It is these two numbers that are used as a guidepost if you have a normal blood pressure, an elevated blood pressure or hypertension.
What do the systolic and diastolic numbers mean?
Making sure you maintain a healthy blood pressure is something everyone should strive for. To do this, you will need to understand what both the systolic and diastolic numbers represent. As mentioned above, the first number in a blood pressure reading is the systolic pressure. Systolic pressure represents blood pumping out of the heart and into the arteries. This number represents the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction or beat of your heart muscle.
The diastolic number measures what is happening in the heart in between those beats. This number represents your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats.
When taking your blood pressure, it will be represented as a fraction with one number on top (systolic) and one on the bottom (diastolic). For example, 120/80 mm Hg is generally considered the base guide to categorize your blood pressure as normal. It is these two forces that we will focus on when discussing taking a proper blood pressure reading.
What is considered a normal reading?
While there are many factors that may impact a person's blood pressure at the time of measurement, generally a normal reading blood pressure should reveal a top systolic pressure number between 90 and less than 120 and a bottom diastolic pressure that is between 60 and less than 80.
If you take your blood pressure and the reading falls in these ranges for both numbers, the American Heart Association (AHA) considers your blood pressure to be within the normal range. It is important to note that both numbers need to be in the appropriate range for a reading to be considered normal.
For someone in the normal range, medical intervention is typically not needed. To help make sure these numbers stay in the normal range, it is recommended you maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy weight to potentially prevent hypertension from developing later. This is especially important for those with a family history of high blood pressure. If your systolic pressure is above the normal range, but your diastolic pressure is in the normal range, this would be considered an elevated blood pressure reading.
What is an elevated blood pressure reading?
As mentioned above, if you have a high systolic reading and a normal diastolic number, this is considered an elevated blood pressure. Although your numbers wouldn’t technically put you in the hypertension category, you are not in the normal range. Historically, someone with elevated blood pressure has a higher chance of developing high blood pressure over time. If you fall into the elevated range, it is important to make an effort to get in the normal range.
Through diet, exercise and a few lifestyle changes, many patients can bring their numbers down to a normal level. If your systolic and diastolic pressures are above the normal range, this would be considered a high blood pressure reading or hypertension.
What Is hypertension?
If your blood pressure readings are consistently above normal and not within the elevated range, you may be diagnosed with hypertension. There are varying degrees of hypertension ranging from Stage 1 to hypertensive crisis. Below are definitions of each of these stages.
Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 130 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89 mm Hg. After visiting with your provider, it may be recommended for you to start taking medications if your blood pressure doesn’t improve after implementing healthy lifestyle choices. This is especially true for those with a family history and at high risk for heart disease.
Stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher. If you are in this range, it is likely your provider will recommend one or more medications for keeping your blood pressure under control. Making healthy lifestyle choices continues to be important in this zone, but they may not be enough to bring you to a normal level without medication.
Hypertensive crisis or “danger zone” is a severe case of high blood pressure that can lead to a stroke. Extremely high blood pressure, meaning systolic pressure of 180 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure number of 120 mm Hg or higher would place you in this category. If someone is in the hypertensive crisis zone, they would require urgent treatment even if you are experiencing no additional symptoms.
If you think you may have high blood pressure, or simply want to rule it out, consider visiting your local CareNow® clinic. Our trained physicians can measure your blood pressure and discuss any concerns you may have. Prior to your visit, be sure to utilize our Web Check-In® feature to skip the waiting room before your appointment.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.