Blood pressure

Understanding Blood Pressure and Why It's Important to Manage

According to the CDC, nearly half of Americans suffer from high blood pressure, something which puts them at greater risk of heart disease and having a stroke. 

In addition to this, there are nearly half a million deaths a year in the USA that can be directly attributed to high blood pressure or hypertension. 

Here we look at why it’s important to measure blood pressure regularly, especially as individuals get older. We will also explain what blood pressure readings mean and under what circumstances it would be advised to contact a physician.

Why Does Blood Pressure Need to Be Measured?

People with high blood pressure do not generally exhibit any indicating symptoms and health issues can develop without the individual being aware of any problems they may have.

Measuring blood pressure regularly ensures that individuals can identify potential problems early and can get advice from their physician or make lifestyle changes that can improve their overall health. Measuring blood pressure can be done easily at home with an affordable monitor or can be carried out at a local medical center and even many pharmacies.

Blood pressure reading

What Do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

Blood pressure (BP) is traditionally measured in millimeters of mercury but most testing devices nowadays are electronic. A blood pressure monitor will produce two readings reflecting systolic (the force your heart exerts when it beats) and diastolic pressure (the force your heart exerts between beats). 

Normal blood pressure is 120 systolic over 80 diastolic. Readings above this can be an indication that there are problems with the heart or cardiovascular system.

What Affects Blood Pressure Readings?

Blood pressure readings can vary depending on a range of factors, not all of them are health-related. If someone has been doing a lot of exercise they are likely to see raised figures immediately after their activity. The readings can also be immediately impacted if the individual has just finished eating or consuming certain beverages. 

To get an accurate reading individuals should:

  • Not eat 30 minutes before measuring. 
  • Sit in a chair with the back straight and feet flat on the floor. 
  • The arm should rest at about chest height and individuals should remain still while the measurement is being taken.

Blood Pressure Ranges/Categories

High blood pressure in itself is not necessarily worrying or a sign that there is a problem. It’s when readings are consistently high while someone is at rest that it may be time to see a physician.

1. Normal

This is usually anything below 120/80. Normal, healthy individuals can find their BP rising above this for a variety of reasons. 

If someone is stressed out or has recently been exercising, the values are likely to be higher. That’s why physicians will often ask patients to take several readings while sitting down comfortably and after resting in a reception area.

2. Elevated

A value of between 120 and 129 for systolic pressure and under 80 for diastolic suggest that someone is likely to develop high blood pressure in the future. Lifestyle changes such as taking more exercise and eating a healthy diet can help keep this under control.

3. Hypertension Stage 1

If readings are constantly between 130 and 139 systolic and above 80 diastolic, it’s considered hypertension and a doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes as well as putting the individual on medication depending on the risk factors involved.

4. Hypertension Stage 2

Regular readings above 140/90 are considered problematic and doctors are more likely to prescribe medication to help keep the situation under control as well as lifestyle changes.

5. Hypertensive Crisis

When a reading is constantly above 180 systolic it is extremely serious and can often be accompanied by chest pain and shortness of breath, as well as weakness on the left side of the body. It’s critical to seek medical attention if you are producing readings this high.

What to Do if Your Blood Pressure Numbers Are High

It’s essential for someone who has regular high blood pressure readings to book an appointment with their physician. If the reading is over 180, it’s critical to seek medical attention immediately. High blood pressure can be managed in several different ways, most commonly through medication and lifestyle changes.

Managing High Blood Pressure

While medication can be useful in reducing high blood pressure and help keep it under control, most physicians nowadays will recommend lifestyle changes for the individual. 

Healthy diet and exercise to manage blood pressure

It’s no surprise that people who are overweight, maintain a poor diet, drink too much alcohol, smoke or don’t exercise frequently are more likely to develop heart and cardiovascular conditions and have high blood pressure.

Finally, there are several things an individual can do to reduce their risk and manage high blood pressure: