Have you ever thought "what is blood pressure? And how do I understand blood pressure numbers?" Maybe you've asked "Do I have high blood pressure?"
Blood pressure can be an abstract and difficult to understand concept. Here's a breakdown of what is being measured, and why it's important to know your blood pressure!
Blood pressure is a measure of the force blood exerts on arterial walls measured in milligrams of mercury (mmHg). Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers (eg 120/80 – pronounced as “120 over 80”), the upper being systolic blood pressure (the pressure exerted during the heart’s contraction), and diastolic (the pressure exerted in between contractions).
The World Health Organization states that a person is diagnosed with high blood pressure when when any of the following criteria are met:
- systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mmHg, or
- diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 90 mmHg, or
- receiving medication for high blood pressure (Whitworth 2003).
Image from the Heart Foundation
Risks of having high blood pressure include heart disease, stroke and kidney disease among others.
So, what blood pressure should you aim for if you are already suffering from high blood pressure? That one is for you and your doctor to discuss. However, in line with the World Health Organisation’s definition one study discovered a significantly reduced level of risk for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in individuals with systolic blood pressures between 120 and 139mmHg.
Reducing your blood pressure either through lifestyle and/or medication can be tricky, read our article How To Reduce Your Blood Pressure to find out how.
It can be handy to practice measuring blood pressure with an automatic blood pressure machine.