Blood Pressure

1 March 2023

Every time you visit a doctor’s office they probably take your blood pressure.  We are all used to it.  They put an inflatable cuff around your upper arm (usually the left); it inflates, and you see the numbers.  The procedure measures the force of the blood that is being pumped by the heart by the large arteries.  If the force (pressure) is too high, the artery could burst causing a heart attack or stroke.  If the pressure is too low, you won’t get enough blood to all the parts of the body, including the brain.

The result is presented as two numbers, one “over” the other.  The first number is the systolic pressure or the maximum pressure during one heartbeat.  The “bottom” number is the diastolic or the minimum pressure between two heartbeats.  The readings can change depending on anxiety, relative health, exercise, diseases or medical conditions, blood volume, and elasticity of the vessels.

The American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and other health organizations publish information about what is considered normal blood pressure and what is not.  In 2017 new guidelines were issued that set high blood pressure rates for all adults at 130/80 and greater.  Previous guidelines were divided by age and were a bit more lenient.  This could mean that if you were on the borderline before, you are now going to be classified as having high blood pressure, or hypertension.

As mentioned, these new recommendations make no distinction between age groups.  There were studies completed on 9,000 adults who were 50 and older and they found that those individuals with a systolic (top number) pressure of 120 had a reduced the chance of a cardiac event or stroke over a three-year period.

Based on these trials, there is no longer a category of pre-hypertension.  Now we have elevated pressure, Stage 1 hypertension, Stage 2 hypertension, or hypertensive crisis.

With these new criteria, some people may find themselves re-diagnosed.  Does this mean a presription?  Not necessarily.  Lifestyle changes can be of benefit.  That includes increased exercise, weight loss, and a heart-healthy diet.

If you are thinking that it might be a good idea to take your blood pressure a few times a week, that isn’t a bad idea.  Most monitors cost between $40 and $100.  Look for a unit that has the cuff go around your upper arm.  There are also wrist and finger versions but their readings may not be as precise.  Select a device whose cuff will inflate itself and is easy to read (large and bright display).  There are also versions that will send the readings into your smartphone either through a plug-in or wirelessly.

For best results avoid caffeine or alcohol for 30 minutes before.  Sit quietly for maybe five minutes with your back supported and legs uncrossed.  Support your arm so that the elbow is about heart level.  Wrap the cuff over bare skin.  Don’t talk during the measurement.  Leave the deflated cuff in place; wait about a minute or so, and repeat the reading.  The two readings should be about the same or very close.  Finally, make a note of the reading including the time of day.  If you have a serious concern, this data can help your physician and you avoid unwarranted complications.

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