What Do Your Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

Resources for Seniors

Most people have their blood pressure (BP) measured by their health care provider, at health fairs or at a drug store. When you see the numbers pop up on the screen, do you know what the numbers mean?
[view the American Heart’s Association’s interactive tutorial of High Blood Pressure]

Know Your Numbers

If your blood pressure is high (regularly measures 140/90 mm Hg or above), talk to your health care provider about a treatment program.

If your blood pressure is high (regularly measures 140/90 mm Hg or above), talk to your health care provider about a treatment program.

Systolic (the top number) is the higher of the two numbers. This measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or when the heart muscle contracts.

Diastolic (the bottom number) is the lower of the two numbers. This measure is the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

Blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. While blood pressure can change from minute to minute with changes in posture, exercise, stress or sleep, it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (less than 120 systolic AND less than 80 diastolic) for an adult age 20 or over, according to the American Heart Association, which reports that about one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure.

A single high reading does not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure. However, if readings stay at 140/90 mm Hg or above (systolic 140 or above OR diastolic 90 or above) over time, your health care provider will likely want you to begin a treatment program. These programs usually includes lifestyle changes and often prescription medication for those with readings of 140/90 or higher.

[view the American Heart’s Association’s interactive tutorial of High Blood Pressure]