Heart Disease Protection Blood Pressure

Blood pressure describes the amount of pressure exerted on the walls of the blood vessels as blood moves through them. The numbers on a blood pressure chart can tell us a great deal about a person’s overall heart health and risk of heart disease.

Ideally, the blood should exert enough pressure on the vessel walls to suggest a strongly pumping heart and adequate blood flow. With hypertension, too much blood pressure stresses the vessel walls and forces the heart to work too hard to move blood through them.

High blood pressure raises the likelihood of heart disease and can indicate the presence of damaged, stiff or occluded vessels or an imbalance in the fluid content of the blood. Good blood pressure readings indicate a strong heart and open, flexible vessel walls.

The Blood Pressure Chart: How Measurements are Taken and What They Mean

A blood pressure chart records blood pressure with two numbers written like this: 117/76 mm Hg. The notation “mm Hg” means millimeters of mercury, and indicates the height to which a column of mercury rises in response to the pressure of an expanding or contracting artery against the testing equipment. The two numbers are measurements of systolic pressure (top) and diastolic pressure (bottom).

The systolic reading is usually higher, since it measures the blood pressure as the left ventricle of the heart contracts and forces the blood to move. The diastolic pressure below measures the reduced tension in the artery as the heart relaxes and expands.

What is “Good” Blood Pressure?

Your blood pressure shouldn’t be too low, but the more common concern is that your blood pressure is too high. Ideally, systolic pressure (the top number) should remain under 120 and good diastolic pressure should fall below 80:

  • Concern begins to arise as systolic pressure approaches 140 and diastolic pressure approaches 90.
  • Stage two hypertension occurs when the systolic reading has risen above 160 and/or the diastolic reading has exceeded 100.
  • A serious hypertensive crisis requiring emergency care occurs when the systolic pressure exceeds 180 and the diastolic pressure exceeds 110.

About 33 percent of adults have high blood pressure (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, 2008). A single reading that’s high on a blood pressure chart doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, since your blood pressure can rise and fall throughout the day. It can change with body posture, stress levels and state of exercise or sleep. After multiple high blood pressure readings, a doctor may suggest a treatment program involving medication or lifestyle changes like increased exercise or reduced sodium intake.

Blood pressure readings tend to rise naturally over time since the large arteries stiffen and plaque accumulates gradually as we age. But if unusually high blood pressure is left untreated, the risk of heart disease and stroke increase.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Understanding blood pressure. Retrieved November 8, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2008). What is high blood pressure? Retrieved November 8, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbp/HBP_WhatIs.html

New York Times. (2010). Blood pressure tests, results and diagnosis. Retrieved November 8, 2010. http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/test/blood-pressure/overview.htm