Blood Pressure – Understanding the Numbers

Today’s blog comes to us from our friends at the Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital (MVRRH). MVRRH is consistently ranked in the Top 10 percent of inpatient rehabilitation facilities nationally by the Uniform Data System for Medical Rehabilitation (UDSMR) and is nationally certified by The Joint Commission in stroke and brain injury rehabilitation. The focus of this blog is to help us understand what new blood pressure numbers mean for all of us. Once you’ve had a chance to read it, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Generating meaningful conversations around the health issues making headlines is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

Blood_pressureNew guidelines released this past fall by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have changed the way you should be looking at your blood pressure numbers. High blood pressure is now defined as 130/80 and higher, which differs from the older definition of high blood pressure as 140/90 or higher.

But what exactly is blood pressure, and what do these numbers mean?

“Blood pressure is the pressure blood puts on the walls of blood vessels as it circulates through your body,” says Dr. Terry Bagley, Assistant Medical Director of Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “High blood pressure is when the force of the circulating blood is consistently too high, putting individuals at risk for health issues such as strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure among other conditions.”

When an individual has his or her blood pressure taken, two numbers are given – a top number and a bottom number (i.e. 120/80). The top number represents the systolic number, which indicates how much pressure the blood is exerting against the artery walls as the heart beats. The bottom number represents diastolic pressure, or how much pressure the blood is exerting on the artery walls in between the heart beats when the heart is at rest.

“High blood pressure doesn’t usually have any signs or symptoms, so having your blood pressure tested by a healthcare professional and knowing your numbers is the best way to protect yourself,” Bagley says. “While it can’t be cured, high blood pressure can be managed through lifestyle changes and even medication when necessary.”

According to the American Heart Association, the five ranges of blood pressure are as follows:

  • Normal (Optimal) – Less than 120/80.
  • Elevated – The top number consistently ranges from 120-129, and the bottom number is less than 80. People with these levels may develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control it.
  • Hypertension Stage 1 – Top number consistently ranges from 130-139 and bottom number ranges 80-89. At this stage, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider medications.
  • Hypertension Stage 2 – Blood pressure is consistently 140/90 or higher. Doctor likely will prescribe a combination of blood pressure medicine with lifestyle changes.
  • Hypertensive Crisis – This is when high blood pressure requires medical attention and exceeds 180/120. Medical care is needed immediately.

“When it comes to blood pressure, be sure to discuss yours with your physician,” Bagley says. “Your physician will know best how the guidelines above apply to your particular situation and can help you get on the right track to a healthier lifestyle.”

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