Blood Pressure: How to Measure and Interpret Results

You may not have thought much to blood pressure and its implications until you are diagnosed with high or low blood pressure. Complete comprehension of the ramifications of this medical issue requires an understanding of blood pressure basics.

Blood pressure mainly involves the heart and arteries. Each time your heart beats, blood is pumped into the arteries to circulate to various parts of the body. Normally, the heart beats about 66-70 times each minute. The force exerted by the blood flow against the walls of the artery when the heart beats is referred to as “Blood pressure.”

Normally, the upper portion of the arm on the inside of the elbow is where blood pressure is measured. A major artery called the brachial, runs through the hollow of the elbow. The brachial artery transports oxygenated blood from the heart to cells and muscles. A sphygmomanometer, the blood pressure cuff, is placed on the upper arm and inflated, while a stethoscope is placed over the brachial artery.

Using a stethoscope, you doctor can find two important readings: the systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is an assessment of the highest pressure exerted on the walls of the artery when the heart beats. Diastolic pressure measures the lowest strain on the arteries which occurs when the heart rests and fills with blood between beats. For instance, 120/80 is a normal reading. The upper number is the systolic reading and the lower number is the diastolic. To make an accurate assessment of blood pressure, both of these figures are needed.

Blood pressure varies throughout the day and is affected by the kinds of activities you are participating in. With your body at rest, it is lower, and with exertion, it increases to match activity levels. Blood pressure can also be affected by moods. Blood pressure will rise when a person is nervous or excited. To make an accurate determination of your blood pressure, it is necessary to take several readings over a period of time.

High blood pressure is also called “hypertension.” A person is considered to have hypertension when readings above 140/90 occur consistently. High blood pressure may not produce any symptoms and so a person may be unaware that he/she has it. Meanwhile, organ damage is occurring. Low blood pressure is referred to as “hypotension.” Readings between 110/60 and 90/50 are normally considered to be low blood pressure. In contrast to high blood pressure, when a person has low blood pressure, symptoms occur that alert one to the condition.

It is estimated that a third of Americans younger than age 65 have hypertension, and that two thirds of people over age 67 have the condition. Of that number, only 37% receive medical treatment to normalize their blood pressure levels.

Your heart beats continually throughout your life. If you suffer from hypertension or hypotension, you are at risk of possibly fatal complications. It is crucial to have your blood pressure monitored regularly. Although the automated blood pressure apparatuses that you often see in pharmacies are not 100% reliable, at least they can let you know if you should see your physician.

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