What do the two numbers on a blood pressure reading mean?

We have all heard about high blood pressure, also called hypertension. High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms, and can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.  A normal blood pressure is 130/80.  But what do the two blood pressure numbers mean?

The top number is the “systolic” blood pressure reading. When the heart beats, it squeezes and pushes blood through the arteries to the body. This force creates pressure on the blood vessels, and that pressure is what the systolic blood pressure measures.  A normal systolic pressure should not be higher than 130.

The bottom number is called the “diastolic” reading, and is the measurement of pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats. This is the time when the heart refills with blood. A normal diastolic number should not be higher than 80.

Most blood pressure monitors also show a third reading, which is a measurement of the heart rate, or pulse.

The average healthy person should get their blood pressure checked every two years.  If a patient has borderline or elevated blood pressure readings, they should get their blood pressure checked at least once a year.

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