What Your Blood Pressure Reading Reveals About Your Health

Apr 03, 2023
Blood pressure tests are so common that you might take them for granted. But what they reveal can have a big impact on your health and your medical treatment. Here's how to make sense of your next blood pressure measurement.

Blood pressure measurements are a regular part of any doctor’s office visit, and today, you can even measure your blood pressure at many drugstores and other public locations. 

But even though you’re familiar with this key health screening, you might not know why it’s important or what those two little numbers actually mean for your health.

At CN Internal Medicine, we use blood pressure measurements to guide medical treatment and preventive care for our patients at our offices in Alexandria and Lansdowne, Virginia. We also use the test to monitor for hypertension (high blood pressure), a chronic medical problem that can have serious consequences. 

Because blood pressure readings are simple and painless, our team wants every patient to understand why regular screenings are important. In this post, we explain what blood pressure is and break down the numbers in your blood pressure reading, so you can understand its potential impact on your health.

The basics of blood pressure

Blood pressure is actually a pretty simple concept. It’s the amount of force your blood exerts on the walls of your blood vessels as the blood circulates through your body. This pressure reflects the force of your heart as it works to keep your blood moving. 

As with other health-related measurements, there’s an ideal range at which the pressure inside your veins is considered normal. Measurements outside this range are either high blood pressure or low blood pressure (hypotension). 

Your blood pressure can change — sometimes dramatically — over the course of your life. That’s why we take blood pressure measurements every time you visit us and why monitoring your pressure plays an important  key role in tracking changes that could indicate an underlying medical problem.

Understanding your blood pressure reading

Blood pressure readings include two numbers. The first number is your systolic pressure — the pressure exerted when your heart beats or squeezes, forcing blood forward through your circulatory system. 

The second number is your diastolic pressure, which is the force inside your vessels when your heart rests or relaxes between beats.

Typically, blood pressure readings are provided as the systolic pressure “over” the diastolic pressure with measurements in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg. 

Under the current guidelines, a blood pressure under 120/80 mmHg is considered normal. Elevated blood pressure is a pressure with a systolic measurement of 120-129 mmHg and a diastolic of less than 80 mmHg. 

High blood pressure is divided into two stages. The first stage is defined as either a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 mmHg or a diastolic pressure between 80 and 89. The second stage includes anyone with a systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or more or a diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg or more.

Blood pressure and your health

Hypertension is a very common — and often very serious — medical problem in the United States. In fact, nearly half of all American adults have hypertension.

Hypertension increases the force of blood as it enters your organs. Not surprisingly, this added force is a potential source of damage to your organs and the smaller blood vessels that provide them with oxygen and nutrients.

Consequently, hypertension is associated with serious medical complications, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Cognitive changes
  • Dementia

Unmanaged hypertension plays a role in more than 670,000 deaths every year in the US.

Hypotension (lower-than-normal blood pressure) is far less common than hypertension. Typically, it can be attributed to specific causes, like dehydration or certain illnesses or medications. Hypotension is also associated with certain heart problems.

Get help managing your blood pressure

Keeping track of your blood pressure is one of the best (and simplest) ways to monitor your health and treat problems before they have a chance to become more serious. 

To learn more about blood pressure and how we can help you manage yours, call 703-212-9190 or request an appointment online with our team at CN Internal Medicine today.