What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of blood pushing against your artery walls. You have probably had your blood pressure taken before and have heard of having high or low blood pressure. But what do the numbers actually mean? And how can you monitor your blood pressure? This is your guide to blood pressure measurement–what you need to know and what you can do to monitor your blood pressure.

Why is it important to get blood pressure checked?

It is important for you to know whether or not you have high blood pressure. High blood pressure has almost no outward symptoms and can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms. It is vital to regularly monitor you blood pressure especially as you age.

How is blood pressure measured?

At a doctor’s office, your doctor will use what is called a sphygmomanometer. It is an inflatable cuff that fits around your upper arm. The cuff will inflate and squeeze your arm for a moment, and then your doctor will take your pulse with a stethoscope as the cuff deflates. It is simple and painless. There is a little gauge on the side of the cuff that measures your blood pressure.

Senior Adult Measuring Blood Pressure Concept

Can blood pressure be measured at home?

With the right equipment and a little know-how, you absolutely can measure your own blood pressure without going to the doctor. In fact, it’s highly recommended that you do. The equipment is simple and easy to use. Talk to your healthcare professional about how to obtain and properly use the equipment and monitor your blood pressure.

What do the numbers mean?

Your doctor will likely rattle off a pair of numbers once he or she has taken your blood pressure. But what do those numbers actually mean?

  • The gauge measures your blood pressure in units called millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg.
  • The first or top number is your systolic blood pressure. It is caused by the heart contracting and pushing out blood (when your heart beats).
  • The second or bottom number is diastolic blood pressure. This is when the heart relaxes and fills with blood (resting between beats).
  • The numbers will be given to you as systolic over diastolic. For example it might be 120/80 mm Hg.

Blood pressure monitor with result of measurement, fruits with vegetables and centimeter

What is normal versus high or low blood pressure?

In an average adult, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is anything higher than 130/80. High blood pressure has many causes, including age (which causes arteries to stiffen), obesity, stress, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. It can lead to heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Low blood pressure is anything lower than 90/60. Having low blood pressure can make you feel weak, lightheaded, and dizzy.

What can be done to prevent high blood pressure?

  • Check your blood pressure regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and low-fat dairy. Beets (or beet supplements) are great for heart health because they are rich in potassium, vitamin c, and nitrates that are great for your heart!
  • Exercise regularly. Doing an activity for 30 minutes every day will significantly decrease your risk of heart disease.
  • Cut back on salt, caffeine, and alcohol. Quit smoking.
  • Manage stress. (Read here to learn more about the link between anxiety and blood pressure and what you can do to decrease stress.)