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May Is National High Blood Pressure Education Month: Understanding Blood Pressure

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Understanding blood pressure is key to keeping it at a healthy level.

This National Blood Pressure Education Month, here are some of the things that people should know about blood pressure.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Every time the heart beats, blood is pumped into the arteries, pushing blood onto its walls. The force by which blood is pushed onto the artery walls is called blood pressure, and it is determined using two measures: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure.

Systolic pressure is measured when the heart beats and blood pressure is highest, and diastolic pressure is measured when the heart rests between beats and blood pressure falls. Together, these two numbers are read as the patient's blood pressure measurement, with the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure.

In regard to which measurement is more important, systolic blood pressure is typically given more attention as it is considered a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease in people over 50 years old. This is because as people age, systolic blood pressure steadily rises as a result of artery stiffness, plaque build-up, and increased incidences of cardiovascular disease.

That said, an elevation in either systolic or diastolic blood pressure may be used as evidence to diagnose high blood pressure.

High And Low Blood Pressure

Generally, 120/80 mm Hg or lower is considered normal blood pressure, but any lower than 90/60 may be considered hypotension or low blood pressure. This may be caused by medications, standing too quickly, or certain medical conditions, but it only becomes problematic when it caused dizziness, fainting, or even shock. For some people, low blood pressure may even be normal.

On the other hand, measurements of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is considered high blood pressure or hypertension. This condition is problematic because it usually does not have obvious symptoms but may cause kidney failure, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

Hypertensive patients are often prescribed with hypertension medications and are advised to make lifestyle changes.

Blood pressure higher than 180/120 mm Hg is considered a hypertensive crisis, and the patient must be rushed to a health care provider immediately.

Blood Pressure Reading Accuracy

A recently published study revealed that blood pressure measurements that are taken out of doctors' clinics are not exactly accurate. In fact, 39 percent of the people with normal blood pressure readings at the clinic registered high blood pressure readings out of the clinic. This inaccuracy is rather problematic because it prevents the patients from getting the proper health care that's specific to their needs.

On the part of the patients, some of the things that can alter blood pressure reading are slouching, having a full bladder, talking during the procedure, having crossed legs, and if the arm is unsupported during measurement. Such simple errors can add up to 10 points to blood pressure readings.

"Knowing how to measure blood pressure accurately at home, and recognizing mistakes in the physician's office, can help you manage your pressure and avoid unnecessary medication changes," said Michael Hochman, M.D., MPH of the American Heart Association's Blood Pressure Task Force.

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