What is Blood Pressure?

Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of the body.  When the heart pumps blood through your body, it causes pressure on the artery walls – thus being known as “blood pressure.”


How is Blood Pressure Monitored?

To check your blood pressure, a medical professional will wrap a cuff around your upper arm.  This cuff will inflate, either automatically or a medical professional will pump it up manually (most common).  The cuff will tighten around your arm.  Air will slowly be let out of the cuff, and while using a stethoscope, a medical professional will listen to your pulse and watch the gauge on the cuff.  The gauge will indicate how much pressure is in your blood vessels. If the cuff is automatic, a machine will do the measurement instead.


Is the Process Accurate?

Blood pressure naturally fluctuates throughout the day.  There are also items and activities that can temporarily alter your blood pressure readings.  To help ensure an accurate reading:

  • Empty your bladder
  • Do not eat or drink anything 30 minutes prior
  • Do not use any nicotine
  • Sit relaxed for several minutes before your reading
  • Keep both feet flat on the ground; do not cross your legs
  • Do not talk during the measurement
  • Make sure the cuff is against bare skin; dress accordingly to allow for skin contact on your upper arm
  • Rest your arm on a surface at chest height; your arm should be at heart-level
  • Make sure that the cuff fits properly and isn’t excessively large or small


What is a Healthy Blood Pressure Reading?

A healthy reading is usually considered between 90/60 and 120/80. 


What Do Those Numbers Mean?

The first number is systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.  The second number is the diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. 

A measurement of 115 systolic and 80 diastolic would be stated as “115 over 80” or written as 115/80 mmHg. 


What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is considered high when it is measured at 130/80 or above, based on 2017 guidelines.  Older guidelines list 140/90 as high.  High blood pressure is also called hypertension. There are usually no warning signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. 


Can High Blood Pressure Cause Health Problems?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to very serious health problems.  It is one of the leading causes of heart disease and can lead to heart attacks, kidney failure, and strokes.


What Causes High Blood Pressure?

A number of factors can cause high blood pressure, which usually develops over a longer period of time.  Things that may cause a role include smoking, being overweight, lack of physical activity, salt and alcohol intake, and stress.  Those with a family history of hypertension are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure. 


Can I Prevent or Manage High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure can often be brought into a healthy range by making lifestyle changes.  Some changes may include increased/regular physical activity, quitting smoking, a healthy diet, reduction of salt and alcohol, losing weight / maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress.  Some individuals may need prescription medication to manage their blood pressure levels.  Any proposed lifestyle changes should be discussed with medical professionals to ensure your health and safety.


What is Low Blood Pressure?

A person might be diagnosed with low blood pressure, also called Hypotension, if their blood pressure is under 90/60.  Low blood pressure does not always cause symptoms and may not indicate any larger health issues.  However, it can mean that there is not enough blood flowing from your heart to the rest of your body – including your brain and other vital organs.  


Is Low Blood Pressure Dangerous?

Low blood pressure is often temporary or situational. One of the most common symptoms is dizziness or feeling lightheaded.  Feeling dizzy after standing up quickly is a common example of postural hypotension; symptoms should only last for a few minutes as your blood pressure adjusts to your new position.  Low blood pressure is more common in older individuals and can increase the risk of falls.  However, low blood pressure can be a symptom of serious illness or injury, medication issues, nerve conditions, or dehydration.


Can I Prevent or Manage Low Blood Pressure?

Most people with low blood pressure do not require any treatment or medication.  However, a medical professional should rule out any serious medical issues.  In general, the symptoms of low blood pressure can be managed by standing up gradually or stretching before shifting positions, wearing compression socks, avoiding caffeine, limiting alcohol intake, staying hydrated, and eating small, frequent meals instead of large meals that increase blood flow. 


Managing your blood pressure is an important element of good health.  Keep watch on any symptoms that may be consistent with high or low blood pressure and consult with your medical care team on any concerns you may have.