Written by Emily McBride (last updated December 2, 2009)
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood going through the arteries. High blood pressure is something to take seriously because it can add stress on your heart and is the number one preventable risk factor for strokes. Other consequences of high blood pressure are heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, kidney disease, and even blindness in some cases. As dangerous as high blood pressure is, it doesn't have any symptoms of it's own, so it's important to check your blood pressure to see how you are doing.
Your blood pressure should be getting checked at normal doctor appointments. Ask the nurse or doctor what your blood pressure is. You should get your blood pressure checked at least every two years once you are 18, and more often if you have high blood pressure and you're trying to lower it. The nice thing about checking your blood pressure is that you can do it just about anywhere—at grocery stores, drug stores, or health clinics. If you have high blood pressure, consider buying an inexpensive cuff and pump that you can use on your own at home. Make sure that you read the instructions, and if you are still confused, ask your doctor for help.
It's one thing to check your blood pressure, and it's another thing entirely to understand what it means. Blood pressure readings can often be confusing. So, how do you read those numbers?
There are two numbers on a blood pressure reading. The higher number is always first, followed by a slash, and then the lower number (e.g. 118/76). The higher number is called the systolic number. The systolic number measures the pressure that comes from the heart pumping blood. The lower number is called the diastolic number. This number measures the pressure in between heartbeats.
The numbers on your blood pressure reading tell a lot about how healthy you are. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, Prehypertension is 120/80 to 139/89, Stage 1 Hypertension is 140/90 to 159/99, and Stage 2 Hypertension is 160/100 or higher (hypertension means high blood pressure). The higher up, the more dangerous it is and the more at-risk you are for heart disease.
Once you check your blood pressure and understand what it means, you'll be able to take action if it's too high. Watch your diet, get regular exercise, and try to maintain a healthy weight. Although it may be a nuisance now, you'll be glad you did in the long run!
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