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Understanding the Numbers in Blood Pressure

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Can someone explain in layman's terms about Blood Pressure readings?  What is normal?  Which number do I want to see lowered?


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The top number (systolic) is measuring the pressure in the artery as the heart is contracting, thus a higher number than the bottom number (diastolic) which is measuring pressure when the heart is relaxed. 120/80 is normal. If numbers are higher than that, it is indicating that there is more pressure than normal. probably due to plaque build up within the artery (the blood has to go through a smaller opening---so more pressure) or simply from age (arteries, like everything else, become less elastic as we age--so more pressure could indicate the artery is more ridged and not expanding as much as it used to). If either number (top or bottom) is up, you would want them lowered. Diet and exercise is a good way to do it!

Hope that makes sense.

Here is a site with good information regarding Blood Pressure:

Plus, you can use it to log your readings for free.

Here's how the American Heart Association describes it:

"Blood pressure is the force in the arteries when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure). It's measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). High blood pressure (or hypertension) is defined in an adult as a blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg systolic pressure or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure."

Normal blood pressure is 120 / 80  or less.  Everyone will occasionally go over that - stress, exercise, etc. - but the usual rate should be about that. 

Wow!  I just had my blood pressure checked and it was 110/80.  Back in October it was 140/88.  I'm taking that as good news.  The nurse has never really told me whether that was normal / good or bad, etc.  iI have had it explained before but for some reason I just didn't get it and it didn't stick, so the numbers were lost on me.

Thank you very much!

The top or larger number = Systolic and should be under 120; 120-139 is borderline; 140-159 is high stage I; 160 or greater is High Stage II (I was 199...). This is your blood pressure your heart generates when it pumps the blood through the arteries.

The bottom or smaller number =  Diastolic and should be under 80; 80-89 is borderline; 90-99 is high stage I; 100 or more is High stage II (I was 169). This your blood pressure when the heart is resting between beats.

Basically, you want to have both numbers in the normal range, e.g. 120/80 or lower. But many doctors seem to focus on the Diastolic number in the belief that it is more important to ensure the heart gets the rest it needs... I'm not convinced that is a good policy and personally, as a laymen, prefer to get both numbers in the normal range. I've had severe hypertension for over 15 years and at times have had to insist on increasing medication levels to bring Systolic down even when the Dr was ok with what it was. I've seen statistical blood pressure versus stroke data (and being an engineer that has reviewed engineering test data can understand it) and can see that even borderline blood pressure levels have a measurable increase in risk of a stroke. So I try to get and keep both numbers within the normal range.

I just wanted to add that the previous poster 'bobev' is right about 120/80 being the high end of normal. Within the last few years, the AHA actual changed their standards to make 120/80 "pre-hypertensive" so you definately want to aim for below that! '120/80' is kind of an out-dated standard, sorry to say. I have a bachelor's degree in nursing and am a cardiac critical care nurse, so I've had a lot of education on this subject. Other huge factors in blood pressure are stress, smoking, obesity,sodium intake, cholesterol (even if you're thin!) and family history.

Keep up the good work, mykanosdelight, but remember that you're blood pressure varies quite a bit throughout the day. It's a good idea to have you're BP taken at different times of the day for a few days to get a better idea of what you're body runs. Also, you may have assumed this, but the "normal" standards apply to resting blood pressure, meaning not right after exercise or while you're moving around a lot.

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A lot of good information so far.  To add to bobev's observation, vascular risk goes up on a logarithmic scale so.........

115/70 is the accepted zero risk, and every time you add 20 points to the top number it doubles the risk, i.e. 135 is twice normal risk, 155 four times the risk, 175 eight times the risk of heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, etc.  

Now remember, that is if your resting BP averages those numbers for a long time, all of us may go up to 180 / 100 when we are exercising really strenuously and that is OK for short periods of time as long as your arteries are otherwise healthy.

Your 110/80 is great! 


what happens if you get a reading thats 70/50?? sometimes I get that.

I was over at my parents house today having dinner with them, and I noticed a blood pressure apparatus on the table in the kitchen, and I'm like WHAT's YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE???  I didn't even know that they had one of those.  My parents are super healthy (Check my Gallery, Mom is 66 and Dad is 72) but my dad had a corotid artery in his neck plaque up about 4 years ago and had that surgery, he had somewhat low blood pressure after the surgery and I recall we had to keep him in under observation an extra day.   Tonight, he said it was 114/68, so I think he is good now that I have been educated.  I told them what mine was too, so we were all happy and then enjoyed a heart-healthy dinner of salmon, broccoli and sweet potatoSmile



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Young healthy people may have low blood pressures and that is fine as long as you feel well and it isn't from an illness or dehydration. 70/50 is low enough I would question whether the reading is accurate unless you normally run quite low.

If you are middle age or older with a low BP (less than 90/60) you should have your doctor check it out. 

Ya Im not healthy because ive been suffering from anorexia for 8yrs now. I get dizzy, hot, and my heart pounds especially in the morning. Last time I got my bp read it was that low. Usually my lower number gets very low.
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The anorexia explains it.  You can beat AN, keep on it.
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