The Basics of Blood Pressure - What is Considered Normal?

By Intermountain Healthcare

Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries, like the pressure of water in a garden hose. Many people have high blood pressure (also called hypertension) without knowing it. This is why it is sometimes called the “silent killer.”

blood pressure basics

High blood pressure can strain your arteries and heart, and can restrict blood flow to and from other body organs. This can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other problems. Blood pressure is measured in two parts: the top number is the systolic reading and the bottom number is the diastolic reading.

When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on the arteries. This is called systolic blood pressure. The diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

Blood pressure is measured with a simple, painless test using a blood pressure cuff called a sphygmomanometer. It consists of a small pressure gauge that is attached to a cuff. The inflatable cuff is usually wrapped around your upper arm. The cuff is inflated to a pressure that’s known to be higher than your systolic blood pressure. As the cuff deflates, the first sound heard through the stethoscope is the systolic blood pressure. It sounds like a whooshing noise. Then this noise goes away, indicating the diastolic blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is not in the normal range, you should see a doctor. You may need medication to manage your blood pressure. You can also help reduce your blood pressure by making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, increasing your activity, and quitting tobacco.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

There is a common misconception if you have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, you will experience symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing. The truth is that high blood pressure is largely a symptomless condition. If you ignore your blood pressure because you think symptoms will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous chance with your life.