Blood Pressure Basics

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Blood pressure is a measurement of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood throughout your body. To determine blood pressure, a health practitioner will measure the force of your blood moving through your arteries during two phases of each heart beat: first, as the blood is initially pumped into the arteries and, second, while the heart relaxes between beats. These two phases represent, respectively, the systolic and diastolic forces. Blood pressure, then, is expressed as the relationship between these two forces: systolic pressure over, or followed by, diastolic pressure.

Moderate pressure is necessary to send blood containing life-sustaining nutrients and oxygen to all the tissues of the body, as well as remove toxic products from these tissues. However, when blood pressure is too high, health problems can occur. Chronically high blood pressure, which is sometimes due to hardened arteries, can cause further damage in artery walls. A person with high blood pressure is said to have hypertension.

Quick Facts about Blood Pressure

  • Globally, nearly one billion people—half men, half women—are estimated to have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most common and preventable risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke.
  • Common symptoms are vague, and include headaches, breathlessness when lying down, and dizziness; in severe cases, sudden chest pain, nose bleeds, and terrible headaches. Often, there are no symptoms.
  • After age 55, more women develop high blood pressure than men.
  • In the past 20 years, the rate of uncontrolled hypertension has declined for men and increased for women.
  • Blood pressure is dynamic and fluctuates throughout the day in response to physical activity, foods and chemicals, and psychological stress.
  • High blood pressure is more common, and more serious, among African-American women—even when they are very young. In urban areas, African-American women are four times more likely to be hypertensive than white women. By comparison, indigenous cultures in Africa have no word for hypertension.
  • Getting your blood pressure checked and keeping track of it is so simple. If you are hypertensive, invest in a blood pressure monitoring device to measure your levels at home. You want your numbers to be 120/80 or less.

How to Avoid High Blood Pressure

Avoiding high blood pressure involves an integrative approach: establishing healthy habits such as a nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet and appropriate supplementation, weight management, exercise, and various mind-body techniques for emotional stress management. Quitting smoking and caffeine, and cutting down on alcohol, can help as well. Depending on how high your blood pressure is, possible pharmaceutical treatment may also be needed, as directed by your physician.

© 2010, 2016 Heart MD Institute. All rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  1. R.Leee

    on November 20, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Dr. Sinatra, what Blood Pressure Numbers , do You consider to be too low?

    Thanks in advance
    R.L

  2. Aurielle

    on December 31, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Dr. S… Yes, pls address the question above. I struggle with low bp myself… lucky to get it into low 100’s over mid 50’s. Doc’s say “great”, but I can hardly keep my eyes open much less work reliably. Surely there must be a healthy, functional range for bp… not just “as low as you can go.” Will appreciate your comments.

  3. Arnold Rumph

    on March 13, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Dear Dr. Sinatra. Thank you so much! Maybe I need correction. But here is my experience. I often when I got up in the morning had low (40) and irregular heart beat. Now I am doing a lot better. Now it is mostly 56-60 and harly irregular. I now am using the famous 4: magnesium, D-ribose, CoQ10 and L-carnitine. Also a glass of red wine a day, 2 ounces of dark chocolate and 2 cups of coffee. And I am doing very well at 85. I use no medications, only supplements and swear by Apple Cider Vinegar. If I would have listened to my doctors, I would be on Crestor for high cholesterol and medication for my stomach. By the way I have had a hiatal hernia for more than 40 years but with an adjustable bed, ACV and occasionally DGL, it causes no problems

  4. Steinar Örn Atlason

    on May 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Dr. Sinatra. My numbers are 140/82 and I’m 37 years old – what are my chances of being able to lower the numbers to normal 123/82? And why are the lower numbers ok when the higher numbers are far to high?

    Thanks.

    S.

  5. Peggy

    on May 31, 2015 at 12:59 am

    Hi doc, I was diagnosed with hb pressure four years ago, within that time my doc has prescribed 4 dif meds, none seems to work satisfactorily. My prese
    nt med is losartan potass/hydro 50/12.5mg still?????

  6. pedalpower

    on June 19, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    My bp normally measures approx 100/70. I am 72, bicycle 25 miles a day, walk two miles a day, and eat a Mediterranean diet – avoiding sugar added and processed foods. I am sometimes lightheaded when standing up. Is my bp too low?. I am on no medications.

  7. Raphael Vitalo

    on March 15, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    You mention that blood pressure varies but you give a point value for where it should be (120/80) or less. The problem is – it varies. So – given that it varies – what is the acceptable upper limit one should observe in a day? Right now, I am on meds and average 140/85 BUT 13% of the time my Systolic BP is over 150 and 3% of the time, over 160.

  8. Raphael Vitalo

    on March 15, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    This article mentions that blood pressure varies but you give a point value for where it should be (120/80) or less. The problem is – it varies. So – given that it varies – what is the acceptable upper limit one should observe in a day? Right now, I am on meds and average 140/85 BUT 13% of the time my Systolic BP is over 150 and 3% of the time, over 160.

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