Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carry blood throughout the body.
When a healthcare provider wraps the blood pressure device around your arm what are they measuring? They are measuring two things: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure.
Systolic pressure is the pressure when the heart contracts.
Diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
For example, a blood pressure reading is given as 120/80 or 120 over 80. The top number is systolic pressure and the bottom number is diastolic pressure.
What does blood pressure tell you about your health?
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, a stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because there are usually no warning signs or symptoms until a serious problem occurs. About 20% of Canadians have high blood pressure, but many don’t know it because they don’t show any symptoms.
There are some risk factors for high blood pressure that you cannot control, including age and family history. However, there are many lifestyle factors that you can control that have an effect on blood pressure. Some of these are:
- Body weight (being overweight or obese)
- Not exercising
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Other medical conditions
- Too much salt (sodium) in the diet
Even small changes can make a difference. Lose a few pounds, exercise more, and cut back on salt and alcohol.
Getting your blood pressure checked is very easy and should be done on a regular basis.
Blood pressure scores
- Normal – Less than 120/80
- Mild – Pre-hypertension: 120-139/80-89
- Moderate – Stage 1 hypertension: 140-159/90-99
- Severe – Stage 2 hypertension: 160+/100 +
Check your blood pressure every two years or annually if high.
Blood Pressure U.K.
John Hopkins University
Canadian Diabetes Association
Heart & Stoke Foundation