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Blood Pressure Tests: What Do the Numbers Mean?

Blood Pressure Tests: What Do the Numbers Mean?


It seems that every visit to the doctor includes a blood pressure test, and at some point, a member of the medical staff will read off two numbers. Why is it necessary to have your blood pressure examined so frequently, and what do the numbers mean, anyway? Following are some of the basics to help you understand more about blood pressure tests.

Blood Pressure Defined Simply

Although the phrase “blood pressure” sounds simple enough, it may not be clear what it means. When your heart beats, it pumps blood, which gives your body energy and oxygen. As it moves, the blood pushes against the sides of the blood vessels. The strength of the pushing is blood pressure. If the strength of the pushing is too high, it can add stress to your arteries and heart.

What Blood Pressure Test Numbers Mean

When you have your blood pressure taken at the doctor’s office, the results include two numbers that sound like a mathematical fraction.

  • The top or first number is “systolic blood pressure,” which indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against the artery walls.
  • The lower or second number is “diastolic blood pressure,” which is how much pressure is being exerted against the artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

High Blood Pressure Numbers

  • Normal: Systolic less than 120 and diastolic less than 80
  • Elevated: Systolic 120 to 129 and diastolic less than 80
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1: Systolic 130 to 139 or diastolic 80 to 89
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2: Systolic 140 or higher or diastolic 90 or higher
  • Hypertensive Crisis : Systolic higher than 180 and/or diastolic higher than 120 (seek medical attention immediately)

Low Blood Pressure Figures

Generally and within reason, there is no specific number to identify blood pressure that is too low. However, problematic low blood pressure has various symptoms. If your symptoms are significant, seek medical care immediately. Signs and symptoms of low blood pressure include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration and unusual thirst not clearly due to any other condition
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

If you are concerned about your blood pressure or have medical conditions that may increase your blood pressure, it’s important to consult with a physician. Your doctor may recommend dietary changes, increase of specific forms of physical activity, use of prescription medications, obtaining a home blood pressure monitor for regular use, or other medical advice.

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