Getting your blood pressure taken is a typical part of most visits to the doctor. The cuff goes on, you feel that squeeze, and, as the cuff loosens, the health professional reports your blood pressure. This procedure is so routine that it may be easy to forget the important relationship between blood pressure and your health.
Making Sense of the Numbers
You may have wondered why blood pressure is usually reported with two numbers. This is because the person measuring your blood pressure takes two measurements:
- When your heart beats, it pushes blood through your body, which puts pressure on your arteries. The first number in your blood pressure reading represents this kind of pressure, which is called systolic pressure.1
- The second number in your blood pressure reading tells you how much your blood is pressing on your arteries between heartbeats. This called diastolic pressure.1
Normal blood pressure is when these two numbers are less than 120 (systolic) and 80 (diastolic).
If either of these numbers is above these thresholds, you may have high blood pressure (also called hypertension) or be at risk of developing it (prehypertension).
High Blood Pressure and Your Health
Most people don’t know they have high blood pressure until they are told by a doctor. Over time, high blood pressure makes it harder for your arteries and blood vessels to work properly. This can lead to serious health conditions:
- heart disease, which can cause heart attack and heart failure
- kidney disease and kidney failure
Preventing and Lowering High Blood Pressure
Nearly one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, and nearly one in three have prehypertenion.2 Whether you have high blood pressure or not, living a healthy, active lifestyle is key for lowering your risk. For more on what you can do to lower your blood pressure or keep it at healthy levels, check out Healthy Living: Changing Your Lifestyle to Improve Your Blood Pressure and Healthy Eating: Lowering your Blood Pressure with DASH.
- Linda B. Bobroff, High Blood Pressure: What You Need to Know, FCS8638, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2012, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy199
- “High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_bloodpressure.htm
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