How to measure blood presssure

It’s important to check your blood pressure after a certain age, even if you don’t have any health problems. Blood pressure can rise silently and make serious damage to your blood vessels and organs. That’s why it’s called the silent killer. To be in control of hypertension you need to know how to measure blood pressure correctly and what those numbers mean.

What is blood pressure?

So what is blood pressure? When your blood moves through your blood vessels it pushes against the vessel walls. The strength of this push is known as blood pressure.

When we take a blood pressure reading we get 2 numbers. An example of a blood pressure reading could be 120/80 mmHg. Let’s take a look at what these numbers represent.

Systolic blood pressure

The first number is called Systolic blood pressure (in our example it is 120). What is Systolic blood pressure? It is the highest value of your blood pressure when your heart beats or contracts .

blood pressure reading

Diastolic blood pressure

The second number is called Diastolic blood pressure (in our example it is 80). What is Diastolic blood pressure? It is the lowest value of blood pressure when your heart relaxes.
The unit in which blood pressure is measured is known as millimeters of mercury or mmHg.

Check your personal blood pressure results with this tool.

How to measure blood pressure correctly?

To keep track of your blood pressure use an electronic blood pressure monitor. Try to check your blood pressure always at the same time of day so your results are comparable.

  • Empty your bladder before measuring
  • Don’t drink coffee or alcohol and don’t smoke for half an hour before you take your readings
  • Calm yourself and sit quiet for 5 minutes near a table. Sit upright on a chair with your back supported and let your feet touch the ground.
  • Put your elbow on the table so it is at the same level as your heart.
  • Lose any tight fit cloths. Put the cuff of the heart rate monitor on your bare skin of your upper arm. You can use the left or the right arm without difference.
  • Start the measuring process according to your devices instruction. Usually that means just tapping the start button.
  • Take two or even better three readings and average them.
  • Measure your blood pressure on the other arm as well.

Measuring blood pressure on both arms is important. It is normal to have a slight difference in results on the left and right arm. If the difference is greater than 10-15 units mmHg mention it to your doctor since this can be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Measuring blood pressure

What is normal blood pressure?

The ideal value for normal blood pressure would be what we used for our example: 120/80 mmHg. However please note this is just the ideal value. Blood pressure categories fall into ranges. So what is the range for normal blood pressure? To be considered as normal blood pressure the Systolic blood pressure (first value) needs to be between 90 and 120 mmHg while the Diastolic blood pressure (second value) needs to be between 60 and 80 mmHg.

What is pre high blood pressure or prehypertension?

When your Systolic blood pressure falls between 120 and 139 mmHg or your Diastolic blood pressure falls between 80 and 89 mmHg you fall into the category of pre high blood pressure. This is still “normal” blood pressure but your values are elevated and you should put some effort into lowering them. With lifestyle and dietary changes it is possible to lower these values. Prehypertension should be taken seriously as it can progress to hypertension or high blood pressure.

What is high blood pressure or hypertension?

Hypertension or high blood pressure is the category where the Systolic blood pressure is over 140 mmHg or your Diastolic blood pressure is over 90 mmHg. Please note that both values do not have to be over their respective value to be diagnosed with hypertension. If you have a Systolic value over 140 mmHg and Diastolic value under 90 mmHg you still fall in the category of Hypertension or high blood pressure. Likewise if your Systolic value is under 140 mmHg and your Diastolic value is over 90 mmHg you still fall into the high blood pressure category.

Blood pressure values

If you have done only one measurement of your blood pressure and you fall into let’s say the category of hypertension this does not mean you have hypertension. There are many factors that can influence your blood pressure in the short term. However you should be concerned and follow up with measurements. It could easily happen that the blood pressure will change and will return to more normal values. However if you consistently fall into the hypertension category over a period of several days or even weeks then it is very likely that you have high blood pressure. You should definitely write down each measurement so you can show them to your doctor. Definitely visit your doctor who will most probably advise you on lifestyle and dietary changes as well as giving you blood pressure medicine.

If you consistently fall into the hypertension category over a period of several days or even weeks then it is very likely that you have high blood pressure.

Hypertension is also known as the silent killer. It got this name because there are no visible symptoms. Your heart, arteries, veins and capillaries may experience extra strain if the blood pressure is too high. High blood pressure over time weakens and damages your blood vessels. Heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and some forms of dementia are all very closely linked to prolonged exposure to high blood pressure.

Any blood pressure higher than SYS 180 or DIA 110 is a hypertensive crises, which is a medical emergency.

High blood pressure can be further divided into 3 stages:

  • High blood pressure stage 1
  • High blood pressure stage 2
  • Hypertensive Crisis

High blood pressure stage 1 is when your Systolic blood pressure falls between 140-159 or your Diastolic blood pressure falls between 90 and 99.

High blood pressure stage 2 is when your Systolic blood pressure falls between 160-179 or your Diastolic blood pressure falls between 100 and 109.

Hypertensive Crisis is a condition when your Systolic blood pressure is over 180 or your Diastolic blood pressure is over 110. In this case emergency care is needed immediately. If you get a reading that falls into this range, wait a couple of minutes and redo the measurement. If the reading is still at this level or higher you should get emergency medical care immediately. If you can’t get through to the emergency services have someone take you to a hospital as soon as possible.

What are the causes of Hypertension ?

Risk factors for high blood pressure

There are many things that can affect our blood pressure. Some of these are:

  • It is not uncommon to have an increase in blood pressure with age
  • Leading a very sedentary lifestyle and not having enough daily exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Not enough fruits and vegetables in your diet
  • Too much salt in our diet
  • Alcohol can increase blood pressure
  • Stress
  • High caffeine intake
  • If someone in your family is already diagnosed with high blood pressure it is very likely that you could have it too.

What is low blood pressure – hypotension?

Hypotension or low blood pressure is when your Systolic blood pressure is under 90 mmHg or your Diastolic blood pressure is under 60 mmHg. Here again only one of the values needs to be under its respective value for you to fall into the category of low blood pressure. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness and faintness. A doctor should really look at your condition and advise appropriate steps to improve your blood pressure.

Blood pressure interpreter

In an attempt to simplify things in your lives we have made a blood pressure interpreter. All you need to do is enter the 2 values you get from a blood pressure reading and it will tell you into which category your values fall under. In this way there is no need to put to memory all the explanations above or keep the diagram close at hand. Check your blood pressure results here.

What you can do to reduce high blood pressure

  • Physical activity
    woman on treadmil

    Regular daily exercise can significantly improve your heart rate and blood pressure. Exercising for 30 minutes everyday can do wonders for your health. Even a simple brisk walk around the park or neighborhood can do wonders. The more exercise activity you can incorporate into your daily routine the better.
  • Normal BMI
    woman measuring body

    Reducing your weight always helps. It is a well known fact that reducing your weight will lower blood pressure levels. If you need to reduce weight the best approach is to slowly increase your exercise and daily activity levels while also choosing healthier foods to eat. Set yourself small and realistic goals that can be achieved. Once goals are achieved always try and improve on them. Check your BMI and find out if you’re overweight and need to loose weight.
  • Healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber
    vegetables and fruit

    Eating healthier food like fruits and vegetables is also known to reduce blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables contain lots of fiber. Fiber plays an important role of regulating our blood sugar so there are no spikes in blood sugar levels. Also fiber collects harmful toxins and regulates your bowel movements. Since fibers are very hard to digest they tend to use up more energy on digestion while keeping you feeling full for a longer time. Fruits and vegetables high in potassium are known to reduce blood pressure. Bananas, melons, oranges, zucchini and spinach are all good examples of fruits and vegetables high in potassium.
  • Lower salt intake
    salt bottle in kitchen
    Blood pressure increases with the increase of salt intake. That is why it is important to reduce the amount of salt you consume. Most of the salt that you consume does not come from the salt that you add at the dinner table. Unfortunately most of the salt we eat comes already added to the products that we buy (bread, ready meals…) so please read the labels to see added salt values. Fruits and vegetables do not have added sugars or salts so they are always a good choice when you are at the supermarket. Try and substitute as much processed food as you buy for whole foods. They are always a healthier choice. In a study from 1949, in the absence of modern high blood medication,  Dr. Kempner prescribed hypertensive patience a strict eating plan with highly restricted salt intake (200 mg chloride and 150 mg sodium). The diet showed very positive results where most patience dropped to normal blood pressure.
  • Manage stress

    Coping and managing stress can lower blood pressure. Learning to meditate, relax, manage stress and dealing with problems can greatly contribute to your overall health. Listening to relaxing and calming music is known also to reduce stress and improve your blood pressure.

Photo credit:Full-Figured Man, Telehealth – Lady and nurse taking blood pressure