What does it mean to have a high or low blood pressure? How does your blood pressure impact your overall health?
Here are some handy answers:
What is blood pressure?
Normal blood pressure is a vital body function. Without blood pressure – the force that moves blood through our circulatory system – oxygen or nutrients would not reach our tissues and organs through our arteries nor would white blood cells be distributed through our bodies. Blood pressure also helps carry the toxic waste in our bodies through our liver and kidney.
How does it work?
The heart creates blood pressure by pushing out blood when it contracts with each heartbeat. Blood pressure is also caused by the difference in pressure between the heart and the smaller branches of the arteries. The condition of the arteries also affects the blood pressure and flow.
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How is it measured?
Blood pressure is expressed with two equally important numbers, for example, 120/80. The top number represents systolic pressure, the amount of pressure in arteries during the contraction of the heart muscle. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which refers to the blood pressure when the heart muscle is between beats.
What is a normal reading?
When the blood pressure is normal, the top number is between 90 and 120, and the bottom number is between 60 and 80. When both systolic and diastolic numbers are in these ranges, you’re considered by the American Heart Association (AHA) to be within the normal range. The overall guidelines recommend that anyone aged 60 or over with hypertension should aim for a blood pressure level of less than 150/90mmHg. Resting blood pressure readings are also influenced by measuring devices and software, number of readings, raised pressure caused by anxiety about a reading (known as white-coat hypertension) and night-time factors.
In order to get an accurate reading, “patients should use an automated oscillometric device that measures blood pressure in the brachial artery (upper arm) and perform measurements in a quiet room after five minutes of rest in the seated position with the back and arm supported,” says Rose Taroyan, MD, MPH, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “At least 12 or 14 measurements should be obtained, with both morning and evening measurements taken, over a period of one week.”
Understanding high or low numbers
If the numbers are higher than the ideal range, the heart is working too hard to pump blood to the body. When the numbers are lower than ideal it means that your blood pressure is too low and doesn’t supply your body and heart with enough oxygenated blood. Low blood pressure is known as hypotension. It is not normally a cause for concern unless you start to experience symptoms.
How to keep a healthy blood pressure level
If your blood pressure is in the normal range, you won’t need any medical intervention. However, you should maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight to prevent hypertension from developing. You may need to be even more cautious about your lifestyle if hypertension runs in your family.
Doctors recommend the following guidelines for maintaining a healthy blood pressure:
- Keep a healthy body weight.
- Stick with a regular diet of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut down on sodium intake.
- Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, etc., for at least half an hour a day on most days of the week.
- If you have to drink, keep it under a maximum of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women/men of lighter weight. Also, it’s good to know that drinking red wine in moderation may increase your HDL (good cholesterol) that removes plaques from arteries and lowers blood pressure.
Our multidisciplinary team of nephrologists, cardiologists and vascular surgeons at the USC CardioVascular Thoracic Institute provide comprehensive individualized care to our patients with difficult to control hypertension, including the evaluation and identification of potentially reversible or curable forms of hypertension.
Your blood pressure can reveal a lot about your general overall health. That’s why it’s always a good idea to get it checked regularly by your primary care physician. If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit http://keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.
By Ramin Zahed