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We get it, understanding blood pressure can be confusing. Let’s break it all down.
Stand up. Look down at your feet. Now, stretch your arm out and look at your fingertips.
Your heart has to pump blood to all those areas and everything in between. So, it exerts pressure when pumping blood (by contracting the vessels) and releasing blood flow through your body (by expanding the vessels) to deliver vital oxygen and nutrients to your organs.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, happens when your heart exerts too much pressure. Over time, this can damage the walls of your blood vessels and can lead to serious side effects.
Here’s a chart to show you what normal and elevated blood pressure readings look like.
Here’s a little more of an explanation on each of the categories:
Normal - If you’re in this range, good for you! That’s a healthy and normal blood pressure.
Elevated - If you’re consistently in this range, you should talk to your doctor. You don’t have high blood pressure yet, but it could develop if you don’t take steps to stop it.
Hypertension Stage 1 - This is usually when your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes (like diet and exercise) and may prescribe blood pressure medication.
Hypertension Stage 2 - Your doctor will almost definitely prescribe medicine and outline lifestyle changes. You’re at risk for things like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Hypertensive Crisis - If you’re in this range at any time, call 911 immediately.
Just as your blood pressure can be too high (aka hypertension), it can also be too low—this is called hypotension. You’d fall into this range if you were at 90/60 or below.
Doctors don’t necessarily treat hypotension unless it’s causing symptoms like:
Your blood pressure is always characterized by two numbers—systolic and diastolic pressure. These are usually expressed phonetically as something like, “120 over 80.”
Systolic blood pressure is the first number (the top number) and indicates how much pressure your heart exerts when it beats.
Diastolic blood pressure is the second number (the lower number) and indicates how much pressure is present when your heart is at rest (between beats).
You read “mm Hg” as “millimeters of Mercury.” It’s a standard unit of measurement for pressure, kind of like Fahrenheit or Celsius for temperature, or miles per hour/MPH for speed.
Heart rate/pulse is a measure of the number of times your heart beats (per minute).
Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which those beats occur.
You can have high blood pressure even if your heart rate is normal. Do not rely on your heart rate to determine your blood pressure, and never attempt to self-diagnose.
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor.
If you looked at the chart above and became concerned, we have good news—high blood pressure is a manageable condition, and HealthTap can help you do it from the comfort of your own home.
If you think you may be at risk, schedule an appointment with your online doctor. Our doctors can determine if you have high blood pressure, what may be causing it, and what the best treatment is for you.
They can also order labs and tests, write prescriptions and send them to your nearest pharmacy, and text with you for free after your appointment to address any follow-up questions or clarifications.