Getting accurate blood pressure readings is like peering into a crystal ball focused on your heart and vascular health. That’s because blood pressure is a reading of the force your blood exerts as it presses against the walls of your arteries.
High blood pressure is a threat to your:
- Heart. High blood pressure damages arteries, which can lead to blocked blood flow to the heart. When blood flow to the heart stops, heart tissue becomes damaged. High blood pressure can also lead to a diseased heart and eventual heart failure.
- Brain. High blood pressure threatens the brain in the same way it threatens the heart — through a loss of blood flow that damages tissue. Nearly 2 million brain cells die per minute during a stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
- Kidneys. High blood pressure can damage arteries vital to kidney function, interfering with your kidneys’ ability to filter blood.
- Eyes. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in your eyes and cause vision loss.
- Vascular system. High blood pressure leads to atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries throughout the body.
- Sexual function. High blood pressure can lower libido in women and cause erectile dysfunction in men.
With such essential bodily systems at risk, it’s important to understand the meaning of blood pressure readings, monitor your blood pressure and seek help for abnormal blood pressure.
What Do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?
Blood pressure is expressed in two numbers: systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number).
- Systolic blood pressure measures how much force is hitting your artery walls when your heart is contracting and is the biggest predictor of future health issues.
- Diastolic blood pressure is a measurement of the force of your blood against your arterial walls when your heart is resting between beats.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). When it comes to blood pressure readings, these are the numbers to know:
- Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. This is ideal.
- Elevated blood pressure is 120–129/less than 80. This is a little high.
- Stage 1 high blood pressure is 130–139 systolic or 80–89 diastolic. This is inching toward a much more serious blood pressure level.
- Stage 2 high blood pressure is 140+ systolic or 90+ diastolic. You may need prescription medication to help bring it under control.
- Hypertensive crisis is 180+ systolic or 120+ diastolic. This level of blood pressure is extremely dangerous. Immediate medical intervention may be lifesaving.
Blood pressure at any level can benefit from a heart-healthy diet, lower salt intake, quitting smoking, giving up or limiting alcohol, and daily exercise. Any blood pressure reading greater than 130/80 should alert you to the need to see a healthcare provider.
How Accurate Are Home Blood Pressure Readings?
You can check your blood pressure at home with a validated automatic blood pressure monitor using the following guidelines:
- Take your blood pressure at the same time daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. Avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol, and exercise at least half an hour beforehand.
- Situate the cuff on your bare arm just above the elbow.
- Sit in a sturdy chair, legs straight and feet on the floor. Rest your forearm on a table so your upper arm is aligned with your heart.
- Take an accurate reading per your home monitor’s manufacturer’s direction.
- Record your reading and see your healthcare provider if your blood pressure is high.
Talk to a Professional
For help monitoring and managing your blood pressure, request an appointment with a primary care provider at St. Elizabeth Physicians in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.