McFarland Clinic

Blood Pressure 101

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June 11, 2014

Jennifer Killion, MD, McFarland Clinic Adult Medicine, answers questions about blood pressure.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries. It is a life force that moves blood through the circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to our tissues and organs.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?

Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: systolic and diastolic. The systolic (top number) measure the pressure in the artery when the heart beats, while the diastolic (bottom number) measures the pressure in the artery during the relaxation phase of the heart.

Why does blood pressure matter?

Blood pressure really measures three things:

  1. The workload on the heart
  2. The amount of resistance to blood in the arteries
  3. The flow of blood to the organs and brain

Regularly measuring your blood pressure at doctor’s visits can help determine whether your blood pressure is normal or too high.

What is normal blood pressure?

Guidelines updated in 2017.

Systolic Blood Pressure Diastolic Blood Pressure Pressure Range
  Less than 120   Less than 80   Normal Blood Pressure
  120-129   Less than 80   Elevated Blood Pressure
  130-139   80-89   Hypertension: Stage 1
  140 or more   90 or more   Hypertension: Stage 2

Why is high blood pressure bad?

  • High blood pressure is defined as more than 120/80.
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. It can also damage and weaken the arteries.
  • High blood pressure is the most common medical disease for which people see a doctor regularly and take medication for chronically. Typically there are no symptoms for high blood pressure.
  • High blood pressure usually develops over years. Eighty percent of people have high blood pressure by age 80.

How do I keep my blood pressure at a healthy level?

There are several things you can do to help keep your blood pressure at a normal level.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products
  • Cut down on sodium intake
  • Do aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day
  • Moderate your alcohol intake
  • Stop smoking

How is high blood pressure treated?

  • Most physicians will recommend the above lifestyle modifications to help lower blood pressure. Patients with high blood pressure who are overweight need only lose 10% of their body weight for it to impact their blood pressure. Returning to a normal BMI is ideal, but not always necessary.
  • Medications are effective at treating high blood pressure.

When should I seek medical attention for blood pressure?

Seek medical attention if your blood pressure is over 180 systolic or 120 diastolic and you are experiencing headache, vision changes, difficulty thinking, chest pain, numbness or weakness.

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