Blood pressure is a measurement used to monitor heart health. This pressure is continually fluctuating based on a number of factors including emotional state, physical state, diet, body temperature, activity and medication. It is lowest when you are asleep and rises as you slowly engage in more activity, or become excited or nervous.
The heart beats 60 to 70 times per minute, and each time it beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Blood pressure measures the pressure of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. A reading consists of two numbers, both of which are important. It is written as a fraction, one number above the other. The top number is called systolic blood pressure. It represents the maximum pressure when the heart contracts. The bottom number is called diastolic blood pressure, and represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.
HIgh Blood Pressure
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is defined in an adult as 140 mm mercury (Hg) systolic pressure or 90 mm Hg or more diastolic pressure. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. A reading of 120-139 mm Hg systolic pressure or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic pressure is considered prehypertension. You have moderate to severe high blood pressure if your reading is consistently 160/100 or higher.
It is important to keep blood pressure within a normal range. High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder. It is a risk factor for stroke, heart attack and kidney problems, especially when present with other risk factors.
Many people believe that if you have high blood pressure you will be nervous, jittery and have difficulty sleeping. The truth is that high blood pressure has no external symptoms. That's why it's called the silent killer. Another misconception is that high blood pressure only occurs in elderly people. Blood pressure problems sometimes occur in children as young as six years old.
It's important to take readings regularly. One high reading doesn't mean you have high blood pressure, just as one normal reading doesn't mean you don't. Some people become nervous at the doctor's office and receive higher readings as a result. Your doctor will decide if you need medication or if you can improve your readings with lifestyle changes. See resources for suggestions of things you can do to lower your blood pressure.