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What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure provides clues about how well your heart is working to pump blood through your arteries. It’s one of your body’s four major vital signs. The other vital signs are:

  • body temperature
  • heart rate
  • breathing rate

Vital signs show how well your body is functioning. If a vital sign is too high or too low, it’s a sign that something may be wrong with your health.

Blood pressure is measured using two different readings. The first reading is called your systolic pressure. That’s the first or top number in a reading. The second reading is your diastolic number. That one is the second or bottom number. For example, you may see blood pressure written as 117/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). In that case, the systolic pressure is 117 and the diastolic pressure is 80.

Systolic pressure measures the pressure inside of the artery when the heart is contracting to pump blood. The diastolic pressure is the pressure inside the artery once the heart is resting.

Higher numbers in either recording can show that the heart is working extra hard to pump blood through your arteries. This may be the result of an outside force, like if you’re stressed or scared, which causes your blood vessels to become more narrow. It could also be caused by an internal force, such as buildup in your arteries that can cause your blood vessels to become narrower.

If you’d like to check your own blood pressure at home, it’s best to first check with your doctor about how they would like you to monitor and record it. For example, your doctor may prefer you to check your blood pressure before or after a certain medication, at certain times of the day, or when you’re stressed or feeling dizzy.

How to use an automated blood pressure machine

The easiest way to take your own blood pressure is to purchase an automated digital blood pressure monitor. Automatic blood pressure machines are the easiest to use, and they’re helpful if you have any hearing impairments. These types of blood pressure cuffs have a digital monitor that will display your blood pressure reading on a screen. You can purchase these online from our store, or at a pharmacy store.

Doctors recommends an automatic, upper arm blood pressure monitor for at-home use. To use your digital blood pressure monitor, follow the instructions that come with it. You can also take the monitor to your doctor’s office, or even your local pharmacy, for a demonstration.

You should also purchase a small notebook to start a blood pressure log or use the memory function of the monitor. This can be helpful for your doctor.

Machines can give you a different reading than a manual blood pressure reading which is normal for digital BP monitor as it using point check as the result tells your pressure at that exact time and position point. It’s a good practice to test 2-3 times in a row to get the mean value when you check your blood pressure.  It’s also important to purchase a high-quality machine and monitor for errors. Even if you check your blood pressure at home, your doctor will still want to manually check it during appointments.

What does your blood pressure reading mean?

If this is your first time taking your blood pressure, discuss the results with your doctor. Blood pressure is a very individualized vital sign reading, which means it can be very different for each person. Some people have naturally low blood pressure all the time, for example, while others may run on the higher side. In general, a normal blood pressure is considered anything less than 120/80. Your own personal blood pressure will depend on your gender, age, weight, and any medical conditions. If you do register a blood pressure reading of over 120/80, wait 2-5 minutes and re-check. If it’s still high, you should talk to your doctor to rule out hypertension. If your blood pressure ever goes over 180 systolic or over 110 diastolic after a repeat reading, seek emergency medical care right away.

Blood pressure chart

While everyone is different, the American Heart Association recommends the following ranges for healthy adults:

Category Systolic Diastolic
normal less than 120 less than 80
prehypertension 120-139 80-89
high blood pressure stage 1 (hypertension) 140-159 90-99
high blood pressure stage 2 (hypertension) 160 or higher 100 or higher
hypertensive crisis (call your local emergency services) higher than 180 higher than 110

When determining the category you fall into, it’s important to remember that both your systolic and diastolic numbers need to be in the normal range for your blood pressure to be considered normal. If one number falls into one of the other categories, you will be considered to be in that category. For example, if your blood pressure was 115/92, you’d be considered high blood pressure stage 1.

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