Understanding Your Blood Pressure

Systolic and Diastolic readings. What do they mean?

Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, for instance, the average blood pressure reading regarded as normal, is 120/80 mm Hg (we’ll explain the units later):

  • Systolic blood pressure 120 (the first number) – indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure 80 (the second number) – indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

An easy way to to remember this is that up (or the top number) is when the pressure is up, and the bottom or down number is when the pressure is down. The measurement unit, mm Hg, simply means millimeters of mercury. Mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and is still used in medicine today as the standard unit of measurement for pressure.

Which Number is more important?

Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure (the first number) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term buildup of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.

However, either an elevated systolic or an elevated diastolic blood pressure reading may be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure. According to recent studies, the risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people from age 40 to 89.

What readings are considered normal?

If your blood pressure falls within the following ranges then it’s considered normal, From 90-120/60-80 mm Hg. These numbers can also be adjusted for age. This chart will help you better understand the numbers

Image courtesy of Texas Heart Institute

Your Heart Beat (Pulse Rate) and Blood Pressure

While your blood pressure is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels, your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.

  • They are two separate measurements and indicators of health.
  • For people with high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension), there’s no substitute for measuring blood pressure.

A rising heart rate does not cause your blood pressure to increase at the same rate. Even though your heart is beating more times a minute, healthy blood vessels dilate (get larger) to allow more blood to flow through more easily. When you exercise, your heart speeds up so more blood can reach your muscles. It may be possible for your heart rate to double safely, while your blood pressure may respond by only increasing a modest amount.

Can other factors affect my Blood Pressure?

Yes. Each patient needs to be monitored and carefully assessed on an individual basis There are factors that can lead to a temporary elevation of your Blood pressure. You doctor will consider these factors if your blood pressure is unusually high and you can mention these to your Healthcare Provider.

1. White Coat Hypertension

Some people experience white coat hypertension, when blood pressure is elevated in the doctor’s office but not in other settings. These patients need to monitor their blood pressure at home or wear an ambulatory blood pressure monitor that takes your blood pressure every 30 minutes for 24 hours.

While white coat hypertension was formerly considered simple nervousness, recent research suggests otherwise.

A study published in the journal Hypertension found that people with white coat hypertension are at a significantly greater risk for developing sustained high blood pressure than people who have normal blood pressure. One possible explanation is that people with white coat hypertension have a harder time managing stress and anxiety.

2. Stress

Emotional stress and anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. Over time, excess stress can take a toll on your cardiovascular system and might lead to permanent blood pressure problems. 

3. Medication

Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can impact your blood pressure. Some medications, like diuretics and blood pressure pills, are designed to lower your blood pressure numbers. Others, like cold and allergy medications, can increase your blood pressure. Be sure to discuss any medication you may be taking with your doctor if you’re assessed with high blood pressure.

4. Activity

Exercise, talking, laughter, and even sex can cause blood pressure fluctuations. These increases are generally small and short lived. If you’ve been running to get your doctors appointment, resting a few minutes before you have your blood pressure taken will negate the effects and allow for a “normal” reading.

5. Food and Drink

What you eat or drink might impact your blood pressure reading. Foods high in tyramine, a substance found in aged foods, can increase blood pressure. This includes foods that are:

  • fermented
  • pickled
  • brined
  • cured

Drinks with caffeine can boost blood pressure numbers temporarily, too.

6. Adrenal Issues

Your adrenal system is responsible for hormone production. Adrenal fatigue occurs when your hormone production is low. Your blood pressure may fall as a result. An overactive adrenal system can cause sudden spikes in blood pressure and hypertension.

7. Pheochromocytoma

This rare tumor develops in the adrenal glands and impacts hormone production. It can cause sudden bursts of irregular blood pressure readings with normal spans in between.

Additional Risk Factors

These factors may put you at greater risk for experiencing fluctuating blood pressure:

  • high levels of stress
  • anxiety
  • taking blood pressure pills that aren’t effective or don’t last until your next dose
  • tobacco use
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • night-shift work

Certain conditions can also increase your risk for developing an abnormal blood pressure. These include:

  • diabetes
  • pregnancy
  • dehydration
  • cardiovascular disease
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • kidney disease
  • thyroid problems
  • nervous system problems

Further Resources

  1. The American Heart Association
  2. Center for Disease Control: Heart Health


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Medika Life
Medika Lifehttps://medika.life
Medika Life is a digital Health Publication for both the medical profession and the public. Make informed decisions about your health and stay up to date with the latest developments and technological advances in the fields of medicine.
More from this author