- Systolic or “upper” number: The pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
- Diastolic or “lower” number: The pressure in your arteries between heart beats
There’s a reason why your doctor checks your blood pressure regularly: It’s a vital piece of information when it comes to your overall health. It’s also one way your doctor can determine what’s “normal” for you and identify any anomalies.
Another reason is that most people don’t show any symptoms of high blood pressure until it’s too late. That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor when it comes to knowing (and controlling) your blood pressure.
It’s all in the numbers
A blood pressure reading is expressed as the systolic number “over” the diastolic number. For example: 120/80 millimetres of mercury — or simply “120 over 80”.
What’s normal for you…
Many things can affect your blood pressure (BP) and it varies throughout the day. Your BP is lower while you are at rest and higher when you are active, but it also changes with emotions, health conditions, medications, your environment and your own individual risk factors, like smoking.
Occasional changes in your BP are not necessarily cause for concern, but consistently high or low readings on either the systolic or diastolic number can be a sign — or cause of — serious health issues and should be investigated.
While the general rule is that 120/80 or lower is considered “good”, that may not be the case for you. Your doctor will decide if your blood pressure is too high based on your age, any medical condition you may have and any medication you may be taking.
Checking it twice
At times, your doctor may decide to keep a closer eye on your blood pressure and arrange for more frequent visits. If necessary, your doctor may also recommend that you wear an “ambulatory blood pressure monitor.”
This monitor is something you wear for 24-hours (generally) and checks your blood pressure automatically every half-hour or so — perhaps every hour when you’re sleeping. The cuff is worn under your clothing and is connected to a small device worn on your belt that captures all the readings. Once your doctor downloads this information, he or she will have a better idea of your BP throughout the day.
Before your next visit
To be prepared for your next visit:
- Write down any symptoms (such as dizziness, fatigue and nausea) you may be experiencing even if you think they’re unrelated to blood pressure.
- If you are using a blood-pressure monitoring machine at home, let your doctor know. He may want to check the machine to ensure it’s working properly.
- If your doctor has recommended lifestyle changes, keep a running list of questions so that you won’t forget to ask while you’re there.
Under pressure: The signs of high and low blood pressure
Move the blood-pressure gauge up or down to find out more about these two potentially dangerous conditions.
Five small changes for big results
Of course, following your doctor’s orders is the best way to stay healthy — particularly when it comes to your blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend simple changes to your daily routine that could go a long way in keeping you healthy.
For example, according to the Canadian Hypertension Education program, these lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on your blood pressure. They’re quick and simple and really make a difference:
1. Pass on the salt.
Restricting your salt intake to no more than 2/3 teaspoon (1,500 mg) per day can reduce your systolic pressure by around 5.8 and your diastolic pressure by 2.5.
2. Lose weight.
If you are overweight, losing 4.5 kg (10 lbs) can reduce your systolic pressure by around 7.2 and your diastolic pressure by 6.9.
3. Just say “less”.
If you drink excessively, reducing your alcoholic intake to no more than two drinks per day can reduce your systolic pressure by around 4.6 and your diastolic pressure by 2.3.
4. Get moving.
Exercising for more than 30 minutes three or more times per week can reduce your systolic pressure by around 10.3 and your diastolic pressure by 7.5.
5. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
Eating a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and other foods low in saturated and trans fat and salt can reduce your systolic blood pressure by around 11.4 and your diastolic pressure by 5.5. Find more information about DASH Diet at www.heartandstroke.ca..