Understanding Your Blood Pressure Readings

By Felipe Fernandez del Castillo, MD

Division of Nephrology

February is American Heart Month, a perfect time to learn more about blood pressure and your health. Regular blood pressure readings are extremely important for all adults. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer,” because you can have it without showing any symptoms, and it puts you at an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.

High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) makes the heart work harder than normal. Left untreated, it can damage your arteries and also lead to strokes, eye damage, and heart failure. No wonder your doctor checks your blood pressure at each visit!

Two key numbers tell the story of your blood pressure

When your blood pressure is taken it is recorded as two numbers divided by slash mark, such as 120/80.

Systolic blood pressure is the first number which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. It is always the higher of the two.

Diastolic blood pressure is the second number, it measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats. This is why it is always the lower number of the two.

Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. Your blood pressure reading can easily vary from minute to minute with changes in posture, exercise, stress levels or sleep. Here’s how your blood pressure reading is evaluated:

  • Normal:Less than 120 systolic/less than 80 diastolic
  • Elevated blood pressure:120-129 systolic/less than 80 diastolic
  • Stage 1 hypertension:130-139 systolic/80-89 diastolic
  • Stage 2 hypertension: 140 or higher systolic/90 or higher diastolic
  • Severely elevated blood pressure:higher than 180 systolic/higher than 120 diastolic

If your blood pressure is normal, great! Keep maintaining a healthy lifestyle to help prevent or delay the onset of high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high, your healthcare provider may recommend you make lifestyle changes and/or take medication to get it under control and reduce your risk of health problems.

If your blood pressure varies significantly or is a concern, you may want to consider investing in a home blood pressure monitor to record your numbers regularly. Doing so can help your healthcare provider monitor your blood pressure and assess whether you require treatment.

Some people have “White Coat Hypertension,” a condition where having your blood pressure checked makes you nervous and causes your blood pressure to rise. The best way to address this common problem is to check your blood pressure at home using an accurate device, record it, and bring it to your doctor visits.

Reliant sponsors free blood pressure check events for our patients who are 18 and older. This allows you to have your blood pressure taken by a healthcare provider without an appointment. You can learn more about our upcoming blood pressure check events here.


Understanding Your Blood Pressure Readings

About Felipe Fernandez del Castillo, MD

Growing up in the Boston area with both a father and a grandfather who were physicians, it wasn’t surprising that Dr. Felipe Fernandez del Castillo also decided to devote his life to helping others.

As a nephrologist, Dr. Fernandez del Castillo takes care of patients who are having problems with their kidneys. “There’s really two different settings for taking care of patients with kidney disease,” he explains. “We take care...

View profile View posts by this doctor

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK


Am I eligible to use Virtual ReadyMED?

Are you or the patient 4+ years old?
Are you in Massachusetts at time of video visit?
Do you have a Reliant PCP?
Do you have access to email on the device you are using?
By continuing I’m giving Reliant permission to communicate with me via text or email to complete this visit.

Am I eligible to use Virtual ReadyMED?

Do you have a MyChart account?