Blood pressure is defined as the force with which blood pumps out of the heart and hits against the blood vessels (arteries) during circulation. The pressure varies with individuals and their health conditions, and it’s a key indicator of how the heart and blood circulation is working.

Blood pressure is constantly fluctuating, based on the heart’s responses to an individual’s actions. For instance, blood pressure readings when reading a book seated on a chair will be different from the pressure count when an individual is busy doing physical activity such as running or exercising.

Measuring Blood Pressure, and Types

Blood pressure readings are recorded using sphygmomanometer and an electronic sensor or stethoscope. The equipment helps measure systolic pressure (blood pressure during heart beats) and diastolic pressure (blood pressure between heart beats).

Checking blood pressure. Image credit: Flickr
Checking blood pressure. Image credit: Flickr

Blood pressure levels are recorded in mmHg or millimeters of mercury, as two distinct numbers. For instance, a 120/80mmHg reading means the blood pressure is 120 above 80. The first number is the systolic blood pressure figure and the second number represents diastolic pressure. The systolic pressure count is higher than diastolic pressure because the blood pressure is at its maximum during heartbeats. Generally, the systolic blood pressure number is given more importance when ascertaining pressure levels.

Blood Pressure Levels

Blood pressure levels could be low, normal or high. The pressure is the lowest during night or when an individual is inactive/asleep. Blood pressure tends to rise during the day when the person is active, nervous, excited, etc. The lower the blood pressure, the healthier is the person. Normal or optimal blood pressure for adults is below 120mmHg (systolic pressure) and 80 mmHg (diastolic pressure).

The following table shall give you a clearer picture of various blood pressure levels:

Blood Pressure StageSystolic PressureDiastolic Pressure
Low70-9040-60
Optimal90-12060-80
Prehypertension120-13980-89
Stage 1 (high blood pressure)140-15990-99
Stage 2 (high blood pressure)160 or above100 or above

High Blood Pressure

Also called hypertension, high blood pressure refers to a condition wherein the blood flows via blood vessels at above-normal speed. Generally, high blood pressure is 140/90mmHg or above. A single high blood pressure isn’t proof enough to declare a high blood pressure problem. Multiple high blood pressure readings, done over a time period, are required to confirm the condition. There are no apparent high blood pressure symptoms or signs, which makes periodic blood pressure checks extremely important.

Sustained or long-term high blood pressure level is among the major heart disease risk factors, since the heart and arteries experience extra strain during high pressure. Stroke and kidney damage are also linked to high blood pressure.

Causes

  • Blood pressure tends to go up with body size and age. For instance, babies have lower blood pressure compared to adults. Similarly, obese people are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure compared to slimmer individuals.
  • Certain medication or medical problems can cause the blood pressure to go up.
  • Other causes include family medical history, lack of physical activity, high cholesterol levels, eating patterns (salty food), obesity, diabetes, depression and alcohol intake.

Prevention/Cure

Lifestyle changes can help lower high blood pressure. Those include:

  • Taking medications, usually called antihypertensives, for lowering and managing high blood pressure.
  • Staying physically active.
  • Reducing excess body weight.
  • Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake.
  • Decreasing sodium/salt intake.
  • Increasing potassium consumption by eating a range of vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds and plain unsalted nuts.

Some forms of exercises such as body presses and lifting heavy weights could inflate blood pressure levels. Therefore, one must work in tandem with a doctor and physical trainer to carve out the right training regimen.

Low Blood Pressure

Sphygmomanometer. Image credit: Flickr
Sphygmomanometer. Image credit: Flickr

Low blood pressure is a condition wherein the blood flow through the veins and arteries is slow. This lack of sufficient blood flow means the vital organs of the body such as heart, brain and kidneys do not receive sufficient amount of nutrients and oxygen. Long-term low blood pressure levels could lead to improper organ functioning and subsequent permanent or temporary organ damage.

Also called hypotension, low blood pressure is when the numbers are below 90/60mmHg. The symptoms include fainting, dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, chest pain, nausea, and increased thirst. Also, blood pressure tends to go down during pregnancy. However, on the positive side, lower blood pressure means lower risks of kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.

Normal Blood Pressure

A normal blood pressure level is no reason to be complacent. Even individuals with normal blood pressure, and no family or personal high blood pressure history or cardiovascular disease risk factors must consider checking their pressure every two years. Maintaining weight and sticking to a healthy diet will ensure the normal levels are sustained even after 50 years of age – the time when most individuals develop high blood pressure.