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Senior Health Information - Understanding Blood Pressure

May 15, 2018 by Comfort Keepers of San Marcos

Here is your one-stop shop for answering all of these blood pressure questions:

Diastole vs. Systole

To start, let’s discuss what the numbers themselves mean.

A typical blood pressure reading is measures as one number over another number, such as 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury, a unit of pressure measurement).

The top, higher number is the systolic blood pressure. This measures the pressure of your blood when it is in systole (sis-tah-lee), or when the heart contracts. During contraction, blood is pushed out of the heart and into the larger blood vessels that carry it through our circulatory system. This is how all of our tissues and organs continuously get fresh blood. During contraction, blood pressure increases, hence the higher number.

The bottom number is diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure when your heart is in diastole (die-ast-uh-lee). Conversely, this is when the heart relaxes after contracting. Instead of pushing blood out, the heart chambers fill with blood, thus causes pressure in the blood vessels to decrease.

Therefore, the systole measurement is your heart’s maximum blood pressure, and diastole is the lowest.

What’s a “healthy” blood pressure reading?

The measurement mentioned above, 120/80 mmHg, is actually what’s classified as “normal” blood pressure.

Healthy individuals tend to find themselves at this level, or even a little below it.

What’s “high” blood pressure?

There are 3 categories of “high” blood pressure.

The first is merely elevated blood pressure, which isn’t too much cause for concern – though it is important to understand why your blood pressure is increasing, and how to fix it. Readings here tend to have a systolic measurement of 120 to 129, and a diastolic reading of under 80.

The next stage is Stage 1 hypertension, where the systolic is 130 to 139, and the diastolic is between 80 to 89.

The last stage is Stage 2 hypertension. Here, systolic can be anything 140 mmHg or above, and diastolic is 90 mmHg or higher.

With these guidelines, which came out last year, as many a 46% of Americans now have “high blood pressure.”

There are many reasons why someone may have elevated blood pressure levels, but the most common risk factors include:

  • Age. Those who are older are more susceptible to higher blood pressure.
  • Race. African Americans more commonly have high blood pressure.
  • Weight. Being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk.
  • Chronic conditions. Conditions like diabetes or sleep apnea can affect your blood pressure.
  • Gender. Men and women are more likely to have high blood pressure at certain ages. Additionally, pregnant women can sometimes experience high blood pressure.
  • Family history. Genetics play a strong role in the condition.
  • Lifestyle habits. Smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, and so forth can put you at a higher risk for blood pressure issues.

If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to severe medical events including heart attack, stroke, and even death.

What’s “low” blood pressure?

Low blood pressure is less common and is of less concern than high blood pressure, but it is still a condition to be treated and taken seriously.

Risk factors for low blood pressure include:

  • Certain medications. High blood pressure medications that aren’t regulated can lower levels too far.
  • Age. Younger folks who suffer from neutrally mediated hypotension experience low blood pressure along with dizziness and fainting. Those over 65 can also experience a drop in blood pressure if they stand up too fast or after they eat.
  • Certain conditions. Some diseases actually lower your blood pressure, some of which include heart conditions and Parkinson’s.
  • Miscellaneous other factors, including overexposure to heat, pregnancy, and so forth.

While medical events aren’t as severe with low blood pressure, the person may experience fatigue, dizziness, or fainting. If not treated over a long period of time, it can lead to brain or heart damage.

For any concerns on your blood pressure or to learn more about what blood pressure range you should be sticking to, talk to your doctor. They can help you set up treatment goals and connect you to resources that may help you.

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