High blood pressure—also called hypertension or HBP—can be a leading indicator of a systemic health problem, or it can just be a feature of how your body functions. Many people are able to live quite normal, active, and otherwise healthy lives even with blood pressure readings that, for some, might be considered high.
The same can be said for low blood pressure, or hypotension. Because it’s not always clear how to interpret blood pressure readings or what can be done to change them, Shell Mutual Insurance is here to help. In this article, we’re tackling the topic of high blood pressure, what it means, and how medical professionals use advanced technology to manage it.
Getting a Handle on your Blood Pressure
When you open a can of soda, there is almost always a ‘pshhh’ sound, indicating the release of built-up air and water pressure from within the can. Releasing that pressure brings the contents of the can to the same level of atmospheric pressure that exists all around us.
Similar to the soda in the can, the blood that is coursing through your body right now is under a kind of maintained pressure. Whereas atmospheric pressure is measured in ATMs on a barometric scale, blood pressure is measured in ‘mm Hg’, or millimeters of mercury. Virtually all blood pressure measurement devices have an ‘mm Hg’ readout that uses this standard nomenclature for determining exactly where someone’s blood pressure is at any given time.
The only way to obtain an accurate blood pressure reading is to have your blood pressure tested.
Here’s how blood pressure tests work:
- A pneumatic cuff is placed on an appendage of the patient. This cuff is connected to either a digital or an analog device that can detect very slight fluctuations in blood pressure as the heart beats.
- The cuff is inflated. Typically, blood pressure cuffs are inflated just enough for the connected device to do its job—normally this takes less than 60 seconds to complete.
- The blood pressure reading is taken. A medical professional interprets the readout of the blood pressure measuring device and the results are discussed with the patient.
For those who need routine blood pressure monitoring, at-home devices can be used. However, it’s important to note that a proper diagnosis of high blood pressure can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional. Do not presume that you have hypertension just because you tested your blood pressure yourself and the results are outside of the ‘normal’ range.
Many factors can influence blood pressure, and it’s important to talk with your doctor to discuss these as part of an overall conversation about your health.
The Difference between Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure
Every blood pressure reading is comprised of two parts: a systolic reading and a diastolic reading.
Here’s the difference:
- Systolic blood pressure is the pressure of the blood within your body at the moment when the heart beats. This can be considered the ‘upper limit’ of your overall blood pressure.
- Diastolic blood pressure is a measure of the pressure of your blood in between heartbeats. This can be considered the ‘lower limit’ of your overall blood pressure.
Typically, systolic blood pressure is the ‘first number’ that is presented by a blood pressure gauge, and diastolic blood pressure is the ‘second number’.
Both of these numbers are important because each of them is a clue about how your cardiovascular system is performing overall. However, systolic blood pressure is given much more attention, because it represents the highest amount of blood pressure that your arteries are experiencing as your heart beats.
As we age, it’s natural for our arteries to harden. That’s why most people experience a gradual rise in blood pressure as they get older.
What’s a ‘Normal’ Blood Pressure Reading?
The American Heart Association uses the following ranges as guides for discussing blood pressure:
Normal: Less than 120 mm/Hg systolic and less than 80 mm/Hg diastolic
Elevated: 120-129 systolic/less than 80 diastolic
Hypertension Stage 1: 130-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic
Hypertension Stage 2: 140+ systolic or 90+ diastolic
Hypertensive Crisis: 180+ systolic or 120+ diastolic
Thankfully, there are actions that can be taken to reduce your blood pressure. These can include modifying your diet, exercising more, and eliminating cardiovascular burdens like smoking and stress.
As always, it’s important to consult with your doctor to get an accurate, comprehensive picture of your total cardiovascular health. Living with high blood pressure is something that millions of Americans deal with every day, and it’s quite possible to still live an active, healthy, and fulfilling life while also strategically managing blood pressure.