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Blood pressure: what the numbers mean

Posted by CarePoint Health on Jun 2, 2015 11:00:00 AM

checking blood pressureMost people are used to the familiar squeeze of the blood pressure cuff at nearly every physician office visit. You’ve heard that blood pressure can lead to heart disease, but you might not know how this happens or why those numbers matter.

Blood pressure readings

The blood pressure reading your physician or nurse reads to you is two different numbers: a top number (systolic) and a bottom number (diastolic). The systolic number measures the pressure against your artery walls when your heart beats. The diastolic measures the pressure when your heart rests between beats. The recommended blood pressure reading is 120/80 or less.

The results of high blood pressure

If your blood pressure is too high, you typically won’t know it. It often causes no symptoms at all. But over time, this high blood pressure stretches and stresses the walls of your arteries. When the artery walls get stretched too far, several different problems can occur:

  • The artery walls get weak. This puts them at risk of rupturing, which can cause an aneurysm or a stroke.
  • The artery walls may get scars from being stretched. The scars can be rough, and cholesterol and/or parts of your blood may get caught in them. This buildup is typically called plaque. When this happens, the arteries can become narrowed or blocked completely, leading to heart attacks or stroke.
  • The plaque buildup in the artery walls can also harden the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. This condition can cause heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and infections.
  • If the cholesterol builds up and then breaks off into the artery, the cholesterol can travel to other parts of the body, causing a heart attack or stroke.
  • When certain arteries are narrowed or blocked, the organs that receive blood from those arteries don’t get enough blood. As a result, they can become damaged or even shut down. This often happens with the kidneys, but can also affect the eyes, heart, and brain.
  • Your heart has to work harder to get blood through the blocked or hardened arteries. This causes stress on your heart and can result in heart damage.

Treatment and prevention

High blood pressure is a potentially dangerous condition that needs to be monitored by your physician. Fortunately, it is preventable and treatable. Getting regular blood pressure checks and following your physician’s recommendations can help you avoid complications.

Sometimes dietary changes and physical activity can help you avoid high blood pressure. But, if your blood pressure is too high, your physician may prescribe medications. It’s important to take these medications exactly as prescribed and to see your physician regularly to ensure your blood pressure is under control.

Primary care at CarePoint Health

Your primary care physician will monitor your blood pressure and guide you through treatment if necessary. He or she will partner with you to help you lead a healthy life. To find a skilled primary care physician at CarePoint Health, please contact us.

Topics: Primary care, Blood pressure