Last week, our Wellness column discussed the factors that help to determine what constitutes a healthy heart rate. Today we’ll take a closer look at blood pressure numbers. If you’re like many people, you have no idea what constitutes a good or bad result when your doctor or nurse tells you your score. So let’s demystify that.
For starters, your blood pressure is expressed as two numbers. The first number reflects your systolic blood pressure — it indicates how much pressure your blood applies when it is pushing against your artery walls during each heart beat. The second number is your diastolic blood pressure. This reflects how much pressure is being exerted at rest, between heart beats.
Your “number” will be expressed as your systolic number, over your diastolic number. For example, “120 over 80” is considered to be in the normal blood pressure range. Usually, your health care provider will focus first on the top number, especially if you are age 50 or older. As arteries harden, plaque builds up and cardiac and vascular diseases are more common, your heart applies more pressure with each beat.
However, any elevated number is cause for closer assessment. High blood pressure can be a precursor to heart attacks, heart failures, strokes, kidney disease and impaired vision. Your health care provider will want to work with you on a plan, usually involving some combination of diet, physical activity and medication, to lower your blood pressure.
This chart from the American Heart Association website indicates the various classifications of blood pressure readings.
To learn more about blood pressure, and steps you can take to improve yours, visit this section of the American Heart Association website.