2012-04-11 / Health

THE NUMBERS GAME: Knowing Your Blood Pressure

You may know that high blood pressure puts you at risk for many serious complications with diabetes. You’ve probably been told repeatedly to work at keeping your blood pressure at a reasonable level. You’ve learned how to eat healthy, exercise and lower your blood pressure, but many people still do not understand what all those numbers in a blood pressure reading mean.

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood flowing through the blood vessels against the vessel walls. It is produced by the amount of blood that is pumped by the heart and the resistance of vessels to blood flow. If the pressure is high, that means the heart must work much harder to maintain adequate blood flow to the body.

The human heart can beat more than 100,000 times per day. Each time it beats, a surge of blood is pumped from the heart into the arteries. This increases the pressure in the arteries. In between heartbeats, pressure in the arteries decreases. This is why blood pressure is reported as two numbers.

The first, higher number, called systolic pressure, is the pressure of the blood against the artery walls when the heart contracts. The second, lower number, called diastolic pressure, is the pressure against the artery walls when the heart relaxes between beats.

The most desirable blood pressure for a healthy adult is around 120/80. Any blood pressure reading that consistently stays at 140/90 or higher is considered high blood pressure.

Isolated systolic hypertension is defined as a systolic pressure that is above 160 with a diastolic pressure that is still below 90. This causes an increase in pulse pressure. Pulse pressure is defined as the difference between the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Elevated pulse pressure is considered to be an important indicator of potential end-organ damage. Studies have shown that people who have isolated systolic hypertension but reduce their systolic blood pressure by at least 20 to a level below 160 reduces these risks.

Borderline hypertension is defined as mildly elevated blood pressure that is found to be higher than 140/90 at times and lower than that at other times. People with borderline hypertension may have a tendency, as they get older, to develop more sustained or higher elevations of blood pressure.

Elevated systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, hardening of the arteries, eye damage and stroke. It is important that you and your doctor recognize high blood pressure early in order to prevent any serious complications.

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