Understanding Your Blood Pressure Reading

Understanding Your Blood Pressure Reading

Paperwork aside, one of the first steps of a comprehensive physical exam is getting a blood pressure reading. Your blood pressure is one of several vital signs your physician checks to evaluate your basic body functions. 

Blood pressure that’s too high or too low can be dangerous or even deadly. Because high blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs without symptoms, getting a blood pressure reading is the most reliable way to find out if you have it. 

In some cases, you might need medications to manage your blood pressure. At his private practice on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York, Jeffrey H. Graf, MD, offers personalized advice on managing your cardiovascular health. 

You get a blood pressure reading during every office visit, and Dr. Graf tells you what your reading means in the context of your health. Still, you may be curious about how to interpret these numbers on your own. 

What a blood pressure reading looks like

Every blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. These numbers represent the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels as your heart beats. The unit of these measurements is millimeters of mercury (mm HG):

Systolic blood pressure (the first number) 

Your systolic blood pressure represents the force of blood within your arteries during a heartbeat, when your heart muscle is contracted.

Diastolic blood pressure (the second number)

Your diastolic blood pressure indicates the force of blood in your arteries between heartbeats when your heart muscle is relaxed. 

When you receive your blood pressure reading, it should look something like this: systolic/diastolic.

Interpreting your numbers

The American Heart Association classifies blood pressure readings into five categories:

Normal blood pressure

A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg. If your reading is in this ballpark, you have minimal cardiovascular risks associated with hypertension. You can maintain your normal blood pressure by following heart-healthy habits like not smoking, eating a low-sodium diet, and exercising regularly. 

Elevated blood pressure

A systolic number that ranges from 120-129 mm Hg with a diastolic number that’s around 80 mm Hg indicates elevated blood pressure. If your numbers are in this range, you should continue to mind your behaviors and commit to healthy habits.

Hypertension stage 1

These high blood pressure readings range from 130/80 to 139/89. If your reading is in this category, Dr. Graf can advise you of healthy lifestyle changes to adopt right away. 

Hypertension stage 2

This is more severe. With a blood pressure reading consistently higher than 140/90 mm Hg, you may need to take blood pressure medications in addition to making healthy lifestyle changes.

Hypertensive crisis

Hypertensive crisis is rare, but it’s life-threatening. Blood pressure of 180/120 mm Hg or higher can damage your organs and requires immediate medical attention. Unless the reading is a fluke, you might experience symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath in this stage. 

Get your blood pressure checked regularly

Dr. Graf welcomes you to his New York City office for primary care and cardiology services, including blood pressure readings during every visit. If you have questions or concerns about hypertension, call the office to schedule your next visit today.

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