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Understanding Blood Pressure

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

To put it simply, blood pressure is defined as the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries within the circulatory system. Blood pressure is assessed and written as two numbers, one above the other with a dividing line between: the systolic (top number)/ and the diastolic (bottom number).

The systolic reading represents the force created when your heart beats, or contracts. The diastolic reading signifies the pressure created when your heart is between beats, or refilling.

A human’s normal blood pressure is represented by a systolic pressure of 120 or less, and a diastolic pressure of 80 or less. This is written as 120/80.

Your blood pressure is considered high if:

a.) your systolic pressure is consistently greater than 140, or

b.) your diastolic pressure is consistently higher than 90.

Note the word ‘consistently.’ If your blood pressure is greater than 140/90 one time, it does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure, otherwise known as “HYPERTENSION.” Be aware that this should definitely be heeded as a warning!

So, when does elevated blood pressure become classified as HYPERTENSION? There really is no definitive answer to that. As a Provider, I typically consider the average blood pressures over a two-to-three-week period of time. If the average blood pressure is greater than 140/90 throughout these two to three weeks, you will be diagnosed as having high blood pressure.

Who is at risk for High Blood Pressure?

Approximately 80 million American adults (over age 20) have high blood pressure. That is about 1/3 of the American adult population.

Risk factors that contribute to high blood pressure are:

  • Close relatives (parents, grandparents, siblings) who have high blood pressure,

  • African Americans are at a higher risk,

  • Those who are overweight or obese,

  • Lack of regular exercise leading to a sedentary lifestyle,

  • High levels of sodium in the diet,

  • Excessive alcohol intake,

  • Diabetes, kidney disease, or gout,

  • Pregnancy

  • Women on birth control pills, are overweight, or had high blood pressure during pregnancy,

  • Age!

Learn more about your risk factors here!

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

People with high blood pressure usually do not have symptoms, so the only way to be sure is to have your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors listed above.

It is important to follow through with blood pressure monitoring at home if you have been diagnosed by your healthcare provider. Elevated blood pressure over a prolonged period of time increases your risk for a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to reduce these risks substantially.

Check back in a few days for the next article in the series to learn more about high blood pressure!

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