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What Over What? Understanding Your Blood Pressure Readings

Blood Pressure Readings

During a doctor visit, you’ll get an inflatable cuff wrapped around your arm that slowly tightens as it reads your blood pressure. The health care professional measuring it tells you one number over another. But what do those numbers even mean about your health?

Knowing the Numbers

The top number is systolic blood pressure, which is the maximum pressure put on the artery walls while your heart is beating.

The bottom number is diastolic blood pressure, which is the maximum pressure put on the artery walls in between beats, while the heart relaxes.

Reading the Ranges

According to the American Heart Association, there are five blood pressure ranges:

1. Normal blood pressure: Systolic: Below 120 mm Hg and Diastolic: Below 80 mm Hg

2. Elevated blood pressure: Systolic: 120 to 129 mm Hg and Diastolic: Below 80 mm Hg

3. High blood pressure (hypertension) Stage 1: Systolic: 130 to 139 mm Hg or Diastolic: 80 to 89 mm Hg

4. High blood pressure (hypertension) Stage 2: Systolic: 140 mm Hg or higher or Diastolic: 90 mm Hg or higher

5. Hypertensive Urgency/Crisis: Systolic: Higher than 180 mm Hg and/or Diastolic: Higher than 120 mm Hg

Handling Your Hypertension

People with high blood pressure typically don’t have symptoms, which is why it’s important to have yours checked regularly.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to:

  • Heart attack or heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Kidney failure
  • Eyesight problems
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Dementia and other changes to memory

A one-time low blood pressure reading usually isn’t a cause for concern. If you get a low pressure reading accompanied by dizziness or fainting, consult your doctor to find out if there is an underlying cause, such as dehydration or a side effect from medication.

Lowering Your Levels

If you get an elevated or high blood pressure reading, your doctor may prescribe you medication. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help lower it. Try exercising regularly, reducing stress, limiting alcohol consumption, and eating a low-sodium diet with plenty of whole foods, such as vegetables and lean meats.