High blood pressure: It’s known as the “silent killer” for a reason. One in three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure – that equals 68 million Americans who are at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke, the leading killers in the country.
But despite the prevalence of high blood pressure, it doesn’t have symptoms or warning signs — unlike most other chronic diseases — so it often goes unchecked.
That’s why it’s so important to have your physician take your blood pressure regularly, as it’s an indication of heart health.
If you’re keeping up with those blood pressure check-ups, congratulations! But you may be asking yourself what do all of those numbers really mean?
If the words “systolic” and “diastolic” have you shaking your head in confusion, here’s a simple explanation.
The first, or top, number in a blood pressure reading is systolic. A systolic reading measures the pressure in your blood vessels each time your heart beats or contracts. The systolic number is the higher of the two numbers in a blood pressure reading.
The second, or bottom, number is diastolic. A diastolic reading measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is resting between beats, when the heart muscle is resting and refilling with blood. The diastolic number is the lower of the two numbers in a blood pressure reading.
When the systolic and diastolic numbers are put together to create a blood pressure reading, you would say the reading as, for example, “110 over 70” or write the blood pressure reading as “110/70 mmHg.”
This chart reflects blood pressure categories as defined by the American Heart Association.
mm Hg (upper #)
mm Hg (lower #)
|Normal||less than 120||and||less than 80|
|Prehypertension||120 – 139||or||80 – 89|
|High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
|140 – 159||or||90 – 99|
|High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
|160 or higher||or||100 or higher|
(Emergency care needed)
|Higher than 180||or||Higher than 110|
Source: American Heart Association
Though your physician will let you know what a healthy blood pressure reading is for you, “normal” blood pressure for adults over age 20 has a systolic reading of 120 or less and a diastolic reading of 80 or less.
If you get a single high reading, don’t panic: Stress, exercise, sleep or even your posture can affect blood pressure. Your physician may want to take a series of readings over time to accurately determine your blood pressure.
The good news is that lifestyle changes – like getting more exercise — lowers blood pressure naturally! Here in Santa Cruz, we’re lucky enough to live in a community with an abundance of outdoor exercise venues, from the beach to biking trails, hiking hills to boardwalks, making lowering that blood pressure more enjoyable.