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What is blood pressure?

You’ve heard of blood pressure. Your doctor takes your blood pressure every time you visit. You may even know that it’s normal, high, or low. But what is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carry the blood throughout the body. Here’s why high blood pressure (also called hypertension) is dangerous:

  • It makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body.
  • It contributes to hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis.
  • It also contributes to the development of heart failure.

Blood pressure is written as a fraction, like 120/80 mm Hg. The top number is the systolic pressure — the maximum pressure your arteries experience when your heart contracts. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure — the minimum pressure exerted in the arteries by the remaining blood when your heart relaxes. The standard unit of measurement is millimeters of mercury.  That is, the height to which the blood pressure can raise a column of mercury.

A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. Prehypertension is usually diagnosed between 120/80 and 139/89.  Hypertension is diagnosed at 140-90 or above. It is important to have readings taken several times, and at different times of the day. That’s because many factors can influence blood pressure, including emotions, exercise, stress, smoking, ingesting caffeine, or eating.

Knowing your numbers is extremely important. It’s the first step in taking control of your health!  Do you know your blood pressure numbers? Call your doctor or stop by a convenient pharmacy clinic to have your blood pressure checked today!