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Understanding your blood pressure

by on February 25, 2013

(Story by Pamela Busby)

Do you have high blood pressure? How would you know? High blood pressure has no warning signs or symptoms—that’s why it’s called the silent killer. To understand high blood pressure it’s good to know the definition.

Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls as it circulates through your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but it can cause health problems if it stays high for a long time.

Systolic and diastolic pressure, what the numbers mean

Blood pressure readings include two important numbers. The systolic pressure, the top number in the blood pressure reading, is the pressure the blood exerts in the artery when the heart muscle is beating. The diastolic pressure, the bottom number in the blood pressure reading, is the pressure the blood exerts in the artery in between heart beats, while the heart muscle is relaxing.

The American Heart Association considers blood pressure of 120/80 to be normal; pre-hypertension is systolic 120-139 and diastolic 80-90; high is systolic 140 or higher and diastolic 90 or higher.

Dangers of uncontrolled blood pressure

High blood pressure usually has no warning signs or symptoms and yet it contributes to nearly 1,000 deaths per day and some $130 billion in direct health care costs each year. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage many systems in your body years before symptoms develop, including:

  • Arteries: damage to cells of the arteries’ inner lining, affecting the flow of blood to your heart, brain, arms and legs. Over time the constant pressure on weakened artery walls can create a rupture or aneurysm.
  • Heart: Coronary artery disease, enlarged left heart and heart failure.
  • Brain: Transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke, stroke, dementia and mild cognitive impairment
  • Kidneys: Kidney failure, kidney scarring and kidney artery aneurysm
  • Eyes: Eye blood vessel damage, fluid build-up under the retina, nerve damage
  • Sexual dysfunction: reduced blood flow to sex organs
  • Peripheral arterial disease: blood flow blockage to lower extremities

Blood Pressure Monitoring

Be sure to talk with your doctor about having your blood pressure checked. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you manage your blood pressure. Always check with your doctor before stopping or adjusting your medication.

You can also monitor your blood pressure yourself at home with digital or manual blood pressure reading equipment. Or you can use blood pressure reading machines available at grocery stores, malls and health clinics.


From → Wellness

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