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What Do Those Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

By D Ruplinger

The body is an amazing and complicated system. Every time a person's heart beats, blood is released from the heart and spread throughout the body via the blood vessels (arteries, capillaries and veins are types of blood vessels). Oxygen is retrieved from the lungs and deposited throughout the body via the blood vessels. Carbon dioxide is carried to the heart via the blood vessels and is sent to the lungs so the carbon dioxide can be released and a new supply of oxygen can be picked up.

Nutrients are also carried throughout the body via the blood vessels. Waste products travel through the blood vessels and, as they travel through the kidneys and liver, the waste products are left behind. The average person has 11 pints of blood traveling through the vessels in their body. To keep the blood moving and all the necessary processes working correctly, some pressure is needed.

Blood pressure measures the amount of pressure in the arteries. A device called a sphygmomanometer (the inflatable arm cuff with the attached air pump and pressure gauge that we are probably familiar with) is used to measure the pressure.

There are two different numbers that make up a person's blood pressure. The systolic pressure is the top or left-hand side number. The diastolic pressure is the lower or right-hand number.

Systolic pressure is the amount of pressure exerted when the heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the amount of pressure that remains in the arteries between heartbeats, when the heart is resting. If someone has a blood pressure of 112/70 (spoken as "112 over 70"). it means that person has a systolic pressure of 112 and a diastolic pressure of 70. Both the systolic and diastolic numbers are important and need to maintained at healthy levels.

What is a healthy and normal blood pressure? Experts say 119/79 is the healthiest blood pressure for an adult and is what every adult should strive for. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 129/84 is normal. High-normal blood pressure is between 130/85 and 139/89. When blood pressure reaches 140/90 and higher it is considered high blood pressure. The higher a person's blood pressure gets after it is greater than 140/90, the greater the risk for serious damage to the body's organs.

A person's blood pressure changes throughout the day depending on what a person is doing physically, feeling mentally (strong emotions can increase blood pressure), food that has been eaten, and depending what time of the day it is. It is natural for a person's blood pressure to fluctuate somewhat.

To get a good blood pressure reading it is better to have it taken after getting up from sleeping and moving around for a few hours, rather than right away in the morning. Try not to have it taken right after vigorous physical activity because blood pressure stays lower than normal for a while. Also, try to not to drink anything with caffeine or alcohol in it, or smoke for at least thirty minutes before having a reading taken. The tobacco and caffeine could temporarily raise blood pressure, resulting in an inaccurate reading. And depending on the person, alcohol can artificially raise or artificially lower blood pressure for a short time.

If a blood pressure reading is high, the person will likely be asked to come back in a day or two to have another reading done so an average blood pressure can be established. One high blood pressure reading doesn't necessarily mean a person has high blood pressure but it shouldn't be ignored either. In addition to the factors mentioned above that can temporarily and artificially raise blood pressure, other things--such as the stress of being in a medical setting--can also temporarily raise it.


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