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What is healthy blood pressure? Do you know what the numbers mean?

What is healthy blood pressure?  Do you know what the numbers mean?

Understanding blood pressure readings can be difficult. While most people know that they don’t want their blood pressure to get too high (hypertension) or too low (hypotension), many people don’t know how to tell the difference. Some also do not understand what blood pressure means.

“Blood pressure is a measure of the force required to move blood from the heart to vital organs and limbs in the body,” explains Viet Le, associate professor of preventive cardiology and resident at Intermountain Health.

Measuring blood pressure involves measuring how the heart is resting between heartbeats and how hard the blood is against the walls of the arteries.

What do blood pressure readings mean?

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers that are typically recorded one above the other. The first or top number represents systolic blood pressure and measures “the force of your heart pumping blood through your arteries,” says Barbara Olendzki, associate professor of population and quantitative health sciences at UMass Chan Medical School. “Certain conditions can cause this number to rise, causing your heart to work harder.”

The second or lower number represents diastolic blood pressure – the pressure experienced when the heart is resting between heartbeats – the time for the heart to fill with blood and receive oxygen. “Both measures are important,” says Olendzki.

What is healthy blood pressure?

“In general, a healthy blood pressure is a systolic reading of 120 or less and a diastolic reading in the 70’s or 80’s,” explains Dr. Efrosini Barish, clinical assistant professor in the medical department at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine. “Although there is some variation in the guidelines for individuals,” she adds.

When broken down, the American Heart Association shows that normal systolic blood pressure is below 120, elevated blood pressure is when the top reading is between 120 and 129, and high blood pressure is when the systolic reading is between 130 and 139. There is also a higher stage. Blood pressure known as stage 2 hypertension is a systolic reading of 140 or more and a crisis point, which is when the systolic reading rises above 180. Any systolic blood pressure reading that high requires immediate medical attention.

As for the bottom, normal diastolic blood pressure is below 80, and high blood pressure starts when diastolic is between 80 and 89. Hypertension stage 2 occurs when this lower score rises above 90.

In case you missed it:High blood pressure can become a dangerous health problem: what you need to know to lower it

What happens if blood pressure is too high or too low?

While higher stages of hypertension are of particular concern, Le points out that vascular-related diseases such as heart attacks, aneurysms, strokes, eye damage and kidney damage can occur “if the pressure is even slightly elevated for an extended period of time (130/80). And while high blood pressure is usually considered more dangerous than hypotension, low blood pressure can also cause worrying symptoms. These include tiredness, dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, trouble thinking, or blurred vision.

Le suggests imagining high blood pressure like a garden hose connected to a fire hydrant and the damage the hose (arteries) or any equipment (organs) it’s connected to would cause, and thinking of low blood pressure as something imagine similar to how a drought would damage lakes and streams. “The surrounding or downstream organs suffer from insufficient blood flow and can also be damaged,” he explains.

Many factors affect blood pressure, including heart disease, dehydration, activity levels, stress, medications, and certain foods. “For those struggling with high blood pressure, the most common cause seems to be a high-sodium diet,” says Doris Chan, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn. “Make a conscious effort to eliminate high-salt foods and watch as your blood pressure begins to return to normal.”

Barish agrees, also emphasizing the importance of getting blood pressure checked frequently. “The best way to prevent problems is to see your doctor regularly,” she advises. “Especially if you’re over 40, have medical problems, or have a family history of high blood pressure.”

Heads up:Some people function normally despite having low blood pressure, but there are also causes for concern.

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