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Baylor College of Medicine News

Blood pressure: How do your systolic, diastolic readings stack up?

When doctors examine patients, even for yearly check-ups, they always include a blood pressure reading. Those two numbers are an important factor when determining overall health, but doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say the numbers don't stand alone.

Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the arteries, and the resistance of the arteries, explained Dr. Biykem Bozkurt, professor of medicine at BCM.

Readings reflect the systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. For example a reading may appear as 120/80 mmHg. The top number is the maximum pressure of force of blood being pumped out of the heart. The bottom number is the minimum force generated when the heart if relaxing.

What is optimal?

Generally a healthy reading is 120/80, and hypertension diagnosis is made at 140/90. People considered prehypertensive generally have readings that fall between 120/80 and 140/90. However, if a person has had a stroke or suffers from heart disease, kidney disease or heart failure then the optimal number should be lower than 130/80.

Hypertension can cause organ damage over time leading to heart attack, blindness, kidney failure or stroke.

Silent killer

"There are no symptoms for hypertension, which is why it is called the silent killer," said Bozkurt. "Some factors that are associated with hypertension are diabetes, family history of hypertension, being overweight, taking in too much sodium, drinking excessive alcohol and smoking."

"For a relatively healthy person not suffering from any other illnesses, only a few lifestyle changes like diet modifications and exercise may be needed," said Bozkurt.

There are many locations where blood pressure machines are available for anyone to have their pressure checked; however Bozkurt advises talking to a doctor to determine if your reading is at a healthy level rather than taking the machine's reading at face value.