Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of your body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Each time the heart beats (about 60-70 times a minute at rest); it pumps out blood into the arteries.
Your blood pressure is at its highest when the heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.
Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. Usually they are written one above or before the other, such as 120/80 mmHg. The top number is the systolic and the bottom the diastolic. When the two measurements are written down, the systolic pressure is the first or top number, and the diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number (for example, 120/80). If your blood pressure is 120/80, you say that it is “120 over 80.”
Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest as you sleep and rises when you get up. It also can rise when you are excited, nervous, or active.
Several factors can affect blood pressure, so one high reading does not necessarily mean that a person has hypertension, or high blood pressure. Immediate stimuli such as fear, pain, anger, and some medications can temporarily raise a person’s BP. If a high reading has occurred, and one of these factors is present, then the person needs to be monitored repeatedly over a period of time to determine if this is a persistent condition, or if the reading was simply based on circumstances.
Hypertension is a leading cause of strokes, cardiovascular disorders, kidney, urological and neurological conditions, and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women. A pressure reading of 120 over 80 or lower is considered healthy. If the systolic number ranges above 120 to 139 or the diastolic number ranges above 80 to 89, a person is considered to have pre-hypertension.
Systolic readings from 140 to 159 or diastolic readings from 90 to 99 are classified as stage 1 hypertension. Systolic measurements of 160 or above or diastolic measurements of 100 or above indicate the severe condition of stage 2 hypertension. Sometimes patients have pressure readings that are lower than 90 over 60, which is what is considered the bottom of the normal range.
This condition, called hypotension, may cause nothing more than a sense of dizziness when moving quickly from a sitting to a standing position. However, hypotension can be indicative of an underlying medical condition, such as heart failure, infection, severe diabetes, shock, gland disorders or dehydration. Alcohol, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, diuretics, painkillers, and some other medications may also cause hypotension. A person’s blood pressure can change over time, so periodic monitoring should be a part of everyone’s preventative health care.
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