Even a normal, healthy blood pressure is a key metric of overall health, but the meaning of the two mysterious numbers isn’t always so easy to understand. If you find yourself with more questions than answers trying to understand what your blood pressure means for the health of your body, you’ve come to the right place: We’re here to set the record straight.
Here are six key facts you need to know about blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is actually a reading of two numbers.
Your reading is a combination of two measurements—your systolic and diastolic pressure. Your systolic pressure is recorded as your heart contracts and your diastolic pressure is recorded as your heart relaxes and refills with blood. The numbers are then recorded and read as a fraction; for instance, a reading of “120 over 80 mmHg” is typically considered normal.
Both high and low blood pressures can cause problems.
A reading at your doctor’s office of higher than 140/90 mmHg (or 135/85 mmHG, if measured at home) could be cause for concern. Your doctor will probably want to do more tests and talk to you about strategies for lowering it. But a low reading can also be problematic. While generally anything less than 120/80 mmHg is considered “good,” blood pressure that is too low can cause dizziness and even loss of consciousness.
Some risk factors for high blood pressure are controllable.
While many lifestyle choices—especially a poor diet and smoking—can lead to high blood pressure, some factors may be out of your control. It is also associated with family history and ethnicity; African-Americans are more likely than Caucasians or Hispanics to develop it at an early age.
Consistent high blood pressure will be diagnosed as hypertension.
Hypertension is a term for consistently high blood pressure readings. While hypertension is rarely diagnosed after just one reading unless it is exceptionally high (above 200/120 mmHg), your doctor will likely want to schedule a follow-up visit to get a second or third reading before making an official diagnosis.
High blood pressure can increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease.
High blood pressure puts you at risk for a long list of dangerous health conditions, most notably a first heart attack or stroke. More than 360,000 American deaths in 2013 were associated with high blood pressure and patients experiencing their first heart attack or stroke were significantly more likely to have it.
High blood pressure is extremely common in America.
It’s estimated that about 70 million American adults have high blood pressure—which averages out to about one in three adults. Luckily, there are ways to lower it or stop it from increasing. These strategies are all consistent with living a healthy lifestyle:
- Maintain a schedule of physical activity approved by your doctor.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in salt, specifically avoiding processed foods as much as possible.
- Lower your alcohol consumption if you were drinking more than two drinks per day.
- Keep your weight within a healthy range and work to lose weight if you are considered overweight.
- Quit smoking.
If you have high blood pressure or worry that you may be at risk of developing it, make sure to talk to your doctor about more ways to live a healthy life and lower your chances of developing serious medical conditions.
Work to get your blood pressure under control with a healthy diet by downloading our free eBook: “Eat Healthy on a Busy Schedule.”