• Bruce Salinger

What Do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

During your annual checkup, most doctors pay special attention to your blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure under control is vital for a healthy heart. High blood pressure is a major contributing factor to strokes and heart attacks.


How can you tell if your blood pressure is too high? This quick guide can help you understand what the numbers mean and what goals you should aim for.


What Is Blood Pressure?


To understand blood pressure, it’s helpful to think of a garden hose. When you turn on the water, the hose swells. You can feel the pressure of the water pushing back if you squeeze the hose.


Your blood also pushes on the walls of your arteries as it flows through your body. The more pressure it exerts, the higher the risk of “stretching” your arteries and hurting them. Over time, this damage can cause blood vessels to shrink.


Elevated blood pressure also makes your heart work harder. The heart has to pump faster and longer to deliver oxygen to essential organs such as your brain, kidneys and eyes.


What Do Blood Pressure Measurements Mean?


Any time you check your blood pressure, you’ll see two numbers written like this: 110/70. Once you know what these readings are for, they’re easy to understand.


The first number is called the systolic reading. It’s your blood pressure measured when your heart is beating.


The second number is your diastolic reading. This is your blood pressure measured in between heartbeats, the reading when your heart is resting.


The first number is always higher than the second. Together, they show your overall blood pressure range.


What Is a Healthy Blood Pressure Reading?


Health professionals, including the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, divide blood pressure into several ranges. Here’s what you need to know:


  • Ideal: Less than 120/80

  • Elevated: Less than 130/80

  • Stage 1 hypertension: 130–139 for systolic and 80–89 for diastolic

  • Stage 2 hypertension: 140/90 or above

  • Critical hypertension: over 180 systolic or 120 diastolic


How Can You Take Your Blood Pressure at Home?


These days, blood pressure monitors are readily available, relatively inexpensive and simple to use with a little practice. You can probably even get your insurance to cover the cost. When using digital blood pressure cuffs at home, follow these tips:


  • Choose an upper arm blood pressure monitor

  • Sit down and rest for five minutes before taking the reading

  • Keep your elbow near heart level

  • Take two readings to confirm the average results

  • Don’t drink coffee for 30–40 before the test

  • Don’t talk, laugh or watch TV while measuring


How Dangerous Is High Blood Pressure?


If you have persistent problems with elevated blood pressure, it’s no laughing matter. The statistics are shocking:


  • 47% of Americans with hypertension

  • 300% higher risk of heart disease

  • 400% higher risk of stroke

  • Increased risk of dementia


The purpose of sharing these figures isn’t to scare you. It’s to show you that keeping your blood pressure under control is a smart investment. It can literally save your life!


Your doctor can help you find solutions to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Always contact your doctor right away if you notice readings of 140/90 or over.


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