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Blood Pressure and the Importance of Knowing Your Numbers

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

What is Blood Pressure?

When your heart pumps blood through your arteries, the blood puts pressure on the artery walls which is what is known as blood pressure. Arteries then carry the blood from your heart throughout your body.¹ Blood pressure does fluctuate throughout the day, but having unusual high or low blood pressure can negatively affect your health in the long run which is why it’s important to know and understand your blood pressure numbers.

What do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers:

  1. Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats

  2. Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats

The numbers are then read with the systolic number over the diastolic number, or written as systolic/diastolic mmHg. For example, if your systolic blood pressure is 120 and your diastolic blood pressure is 80 it would be written as 120/80 mmHg.¹

The only way to know what your blood pressure numbers are is to get your blood pressure tested with a blood pressure monitor. Knowing and understanding your results is key to controlling unusual high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Categories

The chart and information below is provided form the American Heart Association and explains the different categories of blood pressure numbers.²

  • Normal: Blood pressure is considered in the normal category when the numbers are less than 120/80 mmHg.

  • Elevated: Blood pressure is considered elevated when readings consistently range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mmHg diastolic. If you fall in this category, you are likely to develop high blood pressure if no steps are taken to control the condition.

  • Hypertension Stage 1: This stage is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic over 80 mmHg diastolic. At this stage, you will likely be advised to make some lifestyle changes and may be prescribed blood pressure medication.

  • Hypertension Stage 2: This stage is when blood pressure consistently ranges at 140/90 mmHg or higher. At this stage, you will likely be prescribed blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.

  • Hypertensive Crisis: The hypertensive crisis requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mmHg, you could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis and should contact your doctor immediately.

If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are also experiencing symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.

What Number is More Important?

Typically, the systolic blood pressure number is given more attention due to it being a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over the age of 50. However, an elevation of either number may be used to make a high blood pressure diagnosis.²

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure typically develops over time. One may develop high blood pressure due to reasons like unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, obesity, or alcohol and tobacco use. Blood pressure can also be caused by genetics and family history, so it’s important to let your doctor know if high blood pressure runs in your family.³

What Problems does High Blood Pressure Cause?

High Blood Pressure can damage your health in many ways, especially if it’s left untreated. It can hurt important organs like your heart, brain, kidney, and eyes.¹

  • Heart Attack and Heart Disease: High blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart.

  • Stroke and Brain Problems: High blood pressure can also block the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, or cause those arteries to burst, which causes a stroke. Brain cells die during a stroke because they do not get enough oxygen which can then cause disabilities in speech, movement, and other basic activities. A stroke can also be deadly.

  • Kidney Disease: Adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, or both have a higher risk of developing kidney disease which is when the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as well as they should.⁴

What Can You Do to Prevent or Manage High Blood Pressure?

Many people can manage to keep their blood pressure in a healthy range by making some positive lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week

  • Avoid tobacco use

  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet which limits sodium (salt) and alcohol

  • Keeping a healthy weight

  • Managing stress in a healthy way

In addition to making these changes, some people with high blood pressure may need to take medications to manage their blood pressure.¹ And as always, talk to your pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns regarding blood pressure medications or managing your blood pressure numbers.



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