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Heart & Vascular

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Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure? How is it measured?

Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood against the walls of your arteries. A blood pressure reading is taken with a cuff wrapped around the arm, which is infl ated, while monitoring a gauge to determine the reading. According to Dr. Senthil Sundaram, a cardiologist with WakeMed Physician Practices - Raleigh Cardiology, make sure you’re well rested and haven’t had anything to eat or drink before you measure your blood pressure.

“The circumstances under which blood pressure is measured are as important as the numbers themselves,” said Dr. Sundaram. “A variety of factors can affect the reading.”

Blood pressure consists of two numbers. According to Dr. Sundaram, the systolic number, which appears on top of the result, denotes the peak pressure as the heart beats. The diastolic number, the bottom number in a blood pressure result, measures the pressure when your heart is resting between beats.

What is normal blood pressure and what is high blood pressure?

While Dr. Sundaram notes that blood pressure can vary over the course of a day, the typical average for a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Between 120 and 139 systolic and 80 to 89 diastolic is considered pre-hypertension. A blood pressure between 140 to 159 systolic and 90 to 99 diastolic is considered stage 1 hypertension. Anything higher than 160/100 is considered stage 2 hypertension.

Of course, chronic high blood pressure cannot be diagnosed with a single sampling, noted Dr. Sundaram. “One of the rules of thumb is to measure the blood pressure on at least two different occasions before diagnosing high blood pressure,” said Dr. Sundaram. “A diagnosis would be based on the average of at least two different readings.”

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Generally, said Dr. Sundaram, people with high blood pressure have no symptoms. As blood pressure increases and stays high for extended periods of time, patients can experience headaches, dizziness or rarely, organ damage.

What are the risks of high blood pressure?

Increased pressure on the walls of your arteries can damage those arteries, sometimes weakening them to the point of causing an aneurysm. Dr. Sundaram also noted that high blood pressure can damage your heart by contributing to coronary artery disease and heart failure and can also lead to stroke or kidney damage.

How is high blood pressure treated?

For pre-hypertension, Dr. Sundaram said there is generally no reason for drug treatment; instead, it’s important for patients to make lifestyle changes that can help reduce blood pressure. Dr. Sundaram suggests losing weight if necessary, reducing fat and sodium in the diet, exercising daily, limiting alcohol intake and not smoking. For those patients who have hypertension, it’s important to use a combination of the same lifestyle changes along with medication to bring blood pressure down to normal levels.

This article origionally appeared in Heart to Heart magazine, a magazine specifically for heart patients and their families.  Suscribe to Heart to Heart today.