Getting your blood pressure checked shouldn’t be that big of a deal. And understanding it should be easy. For instance, let’s say you end up with 136/82 blood pressure. Is that high? Low? Why is there any confusion in the first place? It’s only a few numbers, right?
But sometimes, determining your blood pressure levels can be a mystery. This is especially true if you’re not quite sure what your numbers are supposed to look like.
Let’s dig deep into blood pressure monitoring and how to decipher if your BP reading skills are sharp.
How Blood Pressure Affects Health
When was the last time you got your blood pressure checked?
If it’s been awhile, you may want to go ahead and get a reading. Hypertension (otherwise known as abnormally high blood pressure) can cause some severely troubling conditions and diseases if not looked into. In fact, some of these complications are considered to be life-threatening, like:
- Heart attack2
- Brain damage
- Cognitive decline3
- Kidney failure
Unfortunately, hypertension affects 25 percent of the adult population in the United States.4 And many people don’t end up seeking treatment for this disease.
So, these are all extremely important reasons to either purchase a blood pressure monitor and have your blood pressure checked at home, or to visit your doctor and allow them to check your blood pressure levels.
But What Exactly Is Blood Pressure?
Well, the stress expended by your blood against the walls of your blood vessels is what’s called blood pressure (aka BP). There are two types of measurements when talking about BP:
- Systolic blood pressure: When you measure the pressure of your heart contracting and pumping your blood into your blood vessels.
- Diastolic blood pressure: When you measure the minimum arterial pressure during relaxation and dilatation of the ventricles of the heart when the ventricles fill with blood. In a blood pressure reading, the second number recorded is usually your diastolic blood pressure.
When you measure blood pressure, you do so in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). For adults, the normal range should be somewhere around (but not over) 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic) mmHg. Of course, this range can differ slightly depending on your age and gender.
Now, pulse pressure is the difference between your systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This number is also measured in millimeters of mercury. It measures the energy your heart creates whenever it contracts.
So, if your BP is 120/80 mmHg, your pulse pressure is measured at 40 mmHg. Got it?
What is High Blood Pressure?
Now, when your blood pressure climbs higher than the regular levels mentioned above, you may have high blood pressure or hypertension. And the reason elevated levels or abnormal blood pressure can be dangerous is that it can bring about additional strain on your arteries and even to your heart.
Basically, high blood pressure means that it takes more of an effort for your heart to pump the right amount of blood flow in the right amount of time. In most cases, the older you get, the higher your blood pressure levels rise.
And often, the symptoms of high blood pressure can go unnoticed. Some symptoms, such as dizziness or loss of vision, may occur when your BP is extremely high.5
136/82 Blood Pressure
In the past, if a patient presented blood pressure numbers in the 120 to 139 (systolic) or 80 to 89 (diastolic) ranges, medications wouldn’t have been prescribed. Doctors and healthcare professionals would have assumed if the patient made significant lifestyle changes, they’d see their blood pressure levels return to a safe range.
So, in the case of 136/82 blood pressure (sometimes written as 136 82, or 136 over 82), the systolic BP (between 120 and 139 at 136) and diastolic BP (between 80 and 89 at 82) would’ve been cause for such a suggestion.
But now, according to the National Institutes of Health, if you’re blood pressure monitoring and you come up with 136/82 blood pressure… it’s prehypertensive. If you’ve found that you have high blood pressure from a blood pressure machine and not at your doctor’s office, the first thing you need to do is go to your doctor to have them double check your BP and tell you what next steps to take.
The NIH also now knows continuous pressure above 120/80 can cause arteries to thicken and lose elasticity, forcing cardiovascular strain and asking the heart to pump harder. Furthermore, there are other potential risk factors, like aneurysm, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and kidney failure.6
The New Guidelines for Blood Pressure
According to the ACC American College of Cardiology and the AHA (American Heart Association), the new guidelines for monitoring blood pressure are as follows:
- Normal: Under 120/80 mmHg
- Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic under 80 mmHg
- Stage i Hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
- Stage ii Hypertension: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg7
So, the difference between stage i hypertension and stage ii hypertension isn’t much. This narrow range is part of why it’s so important to have a doctor manage your blood pressure.
How does Blood Pressure Change with Age?
Unfortunately, instances of hypertension statistically dramatically increase with age. In fact, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 70 percent of older adults have high blood pressure.8
When it comes to aging, an increase in blood pressure is usually associated with changes in the stiffness of the arteries. And according to various clinical trials and studies, rising blood pressure is also associated with increased cardiovascular risk.
For aging communities, the most powerful indicator of potential risk is increased pulse pressure due to decreased diastolic and increased systolic blood pressure levels.
Not too long ago, it was considered inevitable that as you grow older, your blood pressure would rise. However, now, researchers are discovering in secluded and underdeveloped communities this is not so.
Furthermore, studies of adults who migrated from underdeveloped to developed regions show changes toward increasing blood pressure levels — maybe because of the changes in their diets, a reduction in exercise, or an increase in stress.9
Pregnancy and High Blood Pressure
Pregnancy-induced hypertension (otherwise known as PIH, or gestational hypertension) complicates between 6 and 10 percent of pregnancies today. Gestational hypertension is simply high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Pregnant women who suffer from gestational hypertension during pregnancy should be aware that they could potentially experience something called preeclampsia or eclampsia. Eclampsia is a rare but extremely serious condition that causes seizures during pregnancy as a result of higher blood pressure.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension is essentially new-onset high blood pressure that occurs after about 20 weeks of pregnancy.10
So, What Causes High Blood Pressure?
If you were to monitor your blood pressure levels every minute, you’d notice that they change all the time. Furthermore, they can vary according to a number of different factors like your weight, height, gender, age, health, and physical shape. The following factors should also be considered when deciphering what could be affecting your blood pressure:
- Intake of common salt
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Alcohol Consumption
- Caffeine consumption
- Birth control
- A family history of hypertension
According to a recent study, 20.2 percent of Chinese boys and 16.3 percent of Chinese girls aged 6-14 years had elevated BP, and it was found to be particularly common in obese children.11
And this is why lifestyle is so incredibly important from a young age. You must take care to start teaching your children, and those young ones around you, to make healthy lifestyle choices.
How does Lifestyle Affect Chronic Hypertension?
What happens if you are diagnosed with hypertensive issues? Well, there are proven things you can do to help yourself:
- Lower your salt intake.
- Get out and exercise regularly to help increase the strength of your heart.
- Lose or maintain your weight so it is within the acceptable range for your height/age.
- Fill your diet with fruits and vegetables.
- Lower stress.
- Quit smoking, or avoid secondhand smoke.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.12
Of course, these should all be in conjunction with a treatment plan set up by the doctor who diagnosed you. So make sure and see your doctor to figure out the best course of action.
By making certain changes, including reducing salt and alcohol intake, exercising, and losing weight, you can help control your hypertension issues.
Get Checked Out
Again, you can go through your whole life without knowing there’s an issue with your blood pressure. But if you’re hypertensive and you don’t pursue treatment, you could be asking for real trouble.
To recap, you could be putting your vital organs in jeopardy. So, to help prevent organ damage and protect your heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys — keep an eye on your blood pressure throughout your life.
If you start monitoring your BP early, and if it’s too high, you can find a treatment plan that will work to help ease symptoms and keep you living a relatively active life. Visit your doctor, and ask them to check your blood pressure levels — you’ll be glad you looked into it.