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Back to Basics: Understanding Blood Pressure

Heart and Vascular Primary Care Healthy Aging
blood pressure reading

You’ve likely heard about the dangers of high blood pressure and how it can be an indicator of heart health. 

But what exactly is blood pressure? How does blood pressure affect your health? Learning the basics of blood pressure can help you understand the impact of your blood pressure reading on your overall health. 

“Blood pressure is a measurement that reveals how hard your blood is pushing against your blood vessels while it moves throughout your body,” says Lloyd Kellam, M.D., a cardiologist with Riverside Eastern Shore Physicians and Surgeons. 

Blood pressure explained

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers and shown as a fraction, such as 120/80.  

Systolic blood pressure:  This is the first number in your blood pressure reading. It tells you how much pressure is placed on your artery walls by your blood as your heart beats.

Diastolic blood pressure: This is the second number in your blood pressure reading. It shows the pressure placed on your artery walls in between beats while your heart is resting.

Much emphasis is put on the first number as a measure of heart health, but both numbers are important.  

Blood pressure categories

Blood pressures fall into one of five categories of cardiovascular health.  According to the American Heart Association’s Understanding Blood Pressure Readings, those categories are as follows:

Blood Pressure Category Systolic mm Hg(upper number) Diastolic mm Hg (lower number)
Normal Less than 120 and

Less than 80

Elevated 120 — 129 and Less than 80
High Blood pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1 130 — 139 or 80 — 89
High Blood pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2 140 or Higher or 90 or Higher
Hypertensive Crisis (consult your doctor immediately) Higher than 180 and/or Higher than 120

Why knowing your blood pressure is vital

There are often no warning signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. Many people have no idea that they have the condition. For that reason, it’s advised that you have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. Untreated high blood pressure can harm your body in several ways, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Eye damage
  • Stroke
  • Atherosclerosis (blood vessel damage)

Getting help for high blood pressure

“Even if your blood pressure is only slightly elevated, it’s important to consult your physician,” notes Dr. Kellam. “As you age, blood pressure can rise. Have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. If you have high blood pressure, there are treatments for the condition.”

Consult your primary care doctor about how often to have your blood pressure checked.

If you want to discuss your risk factors for high blood pressure, talk to your cardiologist or your primary care provider.  To see a Riverside primary care provider call 757-534-5352 to make an appointment or ask how to be seen safely through a secure video visit.


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