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High Blood Pressure

This section focuses on the subject of high blood pressure.

A Normal Blood Pressure Range: What Do the Numbers Mean?

A normal blood pressure range is important to support heart and overall health. We're explaining everything you need to know about what blood pressure numbers mean.

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If you have ever been to the doctor, you are undoubtedly familiar with the practice of taking blood pressure readings. Taking blood pressure is critical, as high blood pressure (hypertension) gives no warning sign.

What's more, many people are unaware they have the condition until complications arise and it might be too late. This is why hypertension is coined the "silent killer."

But what actually do the numbers mean? Is there such a thing of perfect blood pressure? If so, how do you ensure readings fall in the recommended range? Find out what the numbers should look like and what to do about it here!

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure (BP) measures the force of blood against artery walls as the heart pumps it. A blood pressure range is comprised of two measurements: systolic and diastolic.

• Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure within the arteries while the heart is pumping blood. Systolic blood pressure should be less than 120 and is read as the top number.

• Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure between each heartbeat or pump, or when the heart is resting and refilling with blood. Diastolic BP should be less than 80 and is read as the bottom number.

Again, blood pressure is read as systolic over diastolic (systolic/diastolic) with measurements written as millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Measurements are then placed into the following categories:

BP chart sourced from the American Heart Association (AHA)

What Do the Numbers Mean?

More attention is often given to systolic BP, mostly due to the fact it tends to rise with age. This makes it a major risk factor for heart disease, especially after age 50.

However, both systolic and diastolic pressures are important. In fact, the AHA reports death risk from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic increase. This also serves true with every 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people from age 40 to 89.

Ultimately, a 120 over 80 BP or under is considered to be a normal BP. At this point, no medical mediations are necessary. People are, however, encouraged to sustain a healthy lifestyle while still monitoring BP as advised.

An elevated reading of 120 to 129 and less than 80 is also known as prehypertension. This is essentially a predictive warning sign of developing high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Hypertension was previously diagnosed at 140 over 90 or higher. However, new guidelines identify the first stage hypertension BP range is measured at 130 to 139 or 80 to 89.

Before being diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor will likely take two to three BP readings each. This may be over three or more separate appointments according to the Mayo Clinic. Calculating average blood pressure also helps provide a more accurate picture of current status, as pressures naturally fluctuate throughout the day.

If managing diabetes, heart failure, and other conditions, BPs are recommended to be kept below 130/85. However, primary care can help determine a safe range for you, along with recognizing any concern for too low of readings.

Causes, Risk Factors, and Consequences of High Blood Pressure

While there is no accredited BP chart by age, weight, and gender, each variable, amongst others, can influence readings. WebMD suggests while the exact causes of high BP are not known, these factors likely play a role:

• Poor diet, including too much salt and alcohol consumption

• A sedentary lifestyle

• Smoking

• Stress

• Genetics and family history of hypertension

• Growing older

• Certain health conditions, including chronic kidney disease, adrenal and thyroid disorders, and sleep apnea

People can also have elevated BP due to white coat syndrome. For instance, a normal resting BP might be 110/72 mmHg. However, going to the doctor may cause feelings of anxiety and abnormal readings.

Exceeding the recommended or healthy blood pressure range for men and women deserves strategic interventions to lower readings. Ideally, this should be partnered with a healthcare professional. Without proper management, hypertension can have serious and dangerous effects on the body. The Mayo Clinic identifies the following health consequences of high BP:

• Narrowed, weakened, and damaged blood vessels

• Aneurysm

• Coronary artery disease (CAD)

• Enlarged left heart

• Heart failure

• Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

• Stroke

• Dementia

• Mild cognitive impairment

• Kidney failure and scarring

• Eye blood vessel damage

• Nerve damage (neuropathy)

• Sexual dysfunction

• Bone loss

• Sleep difficulties

How to Manage Blood Pressure

Knowing blood pressure meaning and risks is the first step. The second is making sure average BP ranges remain in recommended levels. Fortunately, BP can be reduced and managed by:

1. Monitoring Blood Pressures

Monitoring and recording blood pressures is where patients can become their own advocate. Blood pressure checks at home provide useful information on current health status. They also help determine how effective current treatments are working and mitigate from threatening health risks.

The American Heart Association outlines the proper way to monitor and measure blood pressures at home. This includes being still, sitting correctly, measuring consistently, and recording results.

2. Making Lifestyle Changes

While age, genetics, and other factors cannot be changed, there are many methods that can help reduce and manage blood pressure.

Making dietary changes has a profound impact on reducing blood pressure. Incorporating more whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fat sources is encouraged. Lowering salt intake is also recommended. If the stress of eating a healthy is overwhelming, consider utilizing a meal delivery service that offers a heart-healthy program.

Exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and practicing stress-reduction techniques can further help control blood pressures. Losing weight is often a byproduct of making healthier lifestyle changes, which further lessens the risk of elevated blood pressure. Besides, weight loss further reduces the risk of additional diseases and improves overall health.

3. Taking Medications

While making lifestyle changes are primarily encouraged, medications may be prescribed if blood pressures are not controlled. They might also be advised for more aggressive treatment.

It is important to follow-up with a doctor to verify the prescription's effectiveness and continue scheduling routine visits.

Ultimately, keep in the know of your blood pressure numbers and seek out medical advice accordingly. Ensuring healthy blood pressures cannot only mitigate the risks of additional risks, but be lifesaving.

Besides, hypertension is not recognized as the "silent killer" for nothing!

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on May 15, 2019.

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