Blood Pressure 101

A yearly physical or even just a normal visit to the doctor
can involve having your blood pressure checked. Not everyone understands why or
how important this information can be. Understanding the basics about blood
pressure can lead to making better health decisions. This first piece of
information to learn is that the top number is called systolic pressure and the
bottom number is called diastolic pressure.

When having blood pressure checked, the doctor will put an
inflatable cuff around the upper arm. Then they will use a stethoscope to
listen to the blood moving through the arteries. The doctor will inflate the
cuff which will cause it to tighten around the arm. As the cuff becomes deflated,
the doctor will listen through the stethoscope to determine systolic blood
pressure. When the noise that goes away from the deflation stops, the doctor
can then take the diastolic reading.

A normal systolic pressure is below 120. When the heart
beats, it squeezes and pushes blood through the arteries to be carried to parts
of the body. This creates forceful pressure on the blood pressure, and systolic
pressure is the reading of that amount of force. If the reading shows between
120-129, this is considered elevated. A reading of 130-139 is considered
hypertension, which is stage one of high blood pressure. A reading of 140 or
more is considered stage 2 high blood pressure. Finally, a reading of 180 or
more may be a medical emergency and one should go the hospital immediately.

A normal diastolic pressure is lower than 80. This is
determined by the amount of pressure in the arteries that exists when the heart
quickly rests between beats. During this “rest” the heart is filling up with blood
and getting oxygen. Even though a normal reading is below 80, if systolic
pressure reads between 120 and 129, a person can still have high blood
pressure. A reading of 80-89 is considered stage 1 hypertension, 90 or more is
stage 2 hypertension, and 120 or more is a medical emergency in which one
should go to the hospital immediately.

Depending on the reading, a doctor will just check each year
at a physical or if there is any indication of elevation may ask for the person
to have it checked every 3 to 6 months. They might even recommend an easy at
home monitor. A good reading requires abstaining from smoking, exercise, or
caffeine at least 30 minutes prior. Checking it at the same time of day is also
important. The person should be sitting in a chair with both feet on the floor
and a doctor can should the proper arm positions. Blood pressure can be a
silent killer, so it is important to be aware. Untreated high blood pressure
can result in stoke, heart attack, or kidney damage.

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