Blood pressure is a common medical term that often gets thrown around. However, if you've never struggled with high blood pressure, there may be a lot that you don't understand. In fact, what do those numbers your doctor reads during a routine check up even mean? Let's find out:
Blood pressure readings
When a clinician tells you your blood pressure, you'll hear reference of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. The top number, which is systolic, indicates what the pressure of your blood flowing through your arteries is each time your heart beats. Diastolic, the bottom number, measures the blood pressure between heartbeats – or when the heart is resting.1 Now, you may be wondering just where you want these numbers to be.
- Normal: A "normal" blood pressure reading is a systolic number less than 120 and a diastolic number less than 80.
- Prehypertension: This danger zone before you hit high blood pressure is a top number between 120 and 139, or a lower number that is between 80 and 89.
- High blood pressure stage 1: Once you reach hypertension, your systolic number will reach between 140 and 159, or your diastolic number may range between of 90 and 99.
- High blood pressure stage 2: If your upper number is 160 or greater, or your lower number is 100 or greater, then you've reached stage 2 of hypertension.
- Hypertensive crisis: Once your systolic number is greater than 180 or your diastolic number is greater than 110, you've hit the point in which emergency care is necessary.
Patients who have hypertension should talk to their doctors about developing and maintaining more healthy lifestyles. If your blood pressure numbers don't improve within six months, medications may be necessary.2 However, only a health care professional can properly prescribe treatment regimes.
Healthy individuals only need to have their blood pressure checked every two years, unless otherwise directed by a doctor. For those with readings that have hit high levels, it's best to have it checked more frequently. WebMD suggests annual blood pressure checkups for anyone who has an upper number between 120 and 139 or lower number ranging from 80 to 89.3 However, hypertensive patients may need to track their numbers on a regular basis.
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1 American Heart Association, "Understanding blood pressure readings" March 1, 2013
2 Mayo Clinic, "Blood pressure chart: What your reading means" March 17, 2011
3 WebMD, "Know your blood pressure numbers" June 12, 2012