The Highs and Lows: What do your blood pressure numbers mean?

We are all familiar with the routine when we have a doctor’s appointment. We start off by being weighed, having our blood pressure checked and then our temperature taken. After our vitals are measured, we hear what our blood pressure is and for many of us it may just sound like a list of numbers. So…do you really know what those numbers mean?

Surprisingly, almost 1 out of every 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure and some even have low blood pressure. These classifications of blood pressure levels can be hard to really understand when many of us may not even know what normal blood pressure numbers are supposed to be. With all of these numbers, let’s get back to the basics of blood pressure so you know what your blood pressure means for your health.

What Does Blood Pressure Measure?

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard moving blood pushes against the walls of the arteries.

Systolic vs. Diastolic

Systolic blood pressure, or the top number, measures the pressure of your blood when your heart beats.

Diastolic blood pressure, or the bottom number, measures the pressure of your blood when your heart is at rest.

For most adults, your blood pressure is normal if it’s less than 120/80. If your level is exactly 120/80 or slightly higher, you are classified as having prehypertension. You have high blood pressure if the levels are 140/90 or higher. You have low blood pressure if your levels are below 90/60.

The Hype around High Blood Pressure

Unfortunately, you can’t tell if you have high blood pressure, or hypertension. It often causes no symptoms, although some people may have headaches. So it’s vital to have your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have one or more risk factors.

Uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to many health problems, such as stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. The good news is there are many things you can do to help lower your blood pressure, including eating heart-healthy foods, reducing sodium, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and not smoking.

The Lowdown on Low Blood Pressure

While low blood pressure, or hypotension, is less common than high blood pressure, there are some who battle this condition. Similar to those with high blood pressure, there may be no noticeable symptoms, but some may experience lightheadedness or fainting, among other symptoms.

There are many possible causes of low blood pressure, so speaking with a physician about your levels is the best way to understand the potential cause. Some common causes include medication, heart problems, dehydration, genetics and pregnancy. While low blood pressure does not increase your risk of other health conditions like high blood pressure does, there are actions you can take to improve your levels. Try drinking more water, avoid alcohol and avoid making sudden movements.

There are multiple factors that can impact your blood pressure. Even aging can naturally raise blood pressure levels. Because having either low or high blood pressure often shows no symptoms, it is important to find the right physician. If you or a loved one is hypertensive or hypotensive, the physicians at Gwinnett Medical Center can ensure that you receive compassionate and effective treatment options customized to fit your unique needs. 

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