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Translating Blood Pressure Numbers

Blood pressure is commonly measured by wrapping an inflatable cuff around the upper arm. Air is pumped into the cuff until circulation is cut off; when a stethoscope is placed over the cuff , there is silence. Then as the air is slowly let out of the cuff, blood begins to flow again and can be heard through the stethoscope. This is the point of greatest pressure (called Systolic), and is usually expressed as how high it forces a column of mercury to rise in a tube. At its highest normal pressure, the heart would send a column of mercury to a height of about 120 millimeters. At some point, as more and more air is let out of the cuff, the pressure exerted by the cuff is so little that the sound of the blood pulsing against the artery walls subsides and there is silence again. This is the point of lowest pressure (called Diastolic), which normally raises the mercury to about 80 millimeters.
Know Your Numbers
It is crucial to "Know Your Numbers" with respect to Blood Pressure. Life-threatening complications can develop over a course of years when hypertension exists. Increased pressure on the inner walls of blood vessels make the vessels less flexible over time and more vulnerable to the buildup of fatty deposits in a process known as atherosclerosis. Hypertension also forces the heart to work harder to pump adequate blood throughout the body. This extra work causes the muscles of the heart to enlarge, and eventually the enlarged heart becomes inefficient in pumping blood. An enlarged heart may lead to heart failure, in which the heart can not pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.
Systolic and Diastolic readings are important
diastolic pressure has traditionally been emphasized because it is less subject to fluctuations. However, recent studies have revealed that systolic pressure may be as significant a heart attack predictor as diastolic pressure.

Normal blood pressure is thus usually said to be 120/80 (systolic/diastolic) or less, measured in millimeters of mercury (abbreviated as mm Hg). What do blood pressure numbers indicate? The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart is beating. The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. The systolic pressure is always stated first and the diastolic pressure second. For example: 122/76 (122 over 76); systolic = 122, diastolic = 76. Blood pressure of less than 140 over 90 is considered a normal reading for adults. A systolic pressure of 130 to 139 or a diastolic pressure of 85 to 89 needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading equal to or greater than 140 (systolic) over 90 (diastolic) is considered elevated (high).

Rating Systolic Diastolic
Optimal <120 <80
Normal <130 <85
High Normal 130-139 85-89
Hypertension
Stage 1
140-159 90-99
Hypertension
Stage 2
160-179 100-109
Hypertension
Stage 3
>179 >109
In some people, the system that regulates blood pressure goes awry: arteries throughout the body stay constricted, driving up the pressure in the larger blood vessels. Sustained high blood pressure - above 140/90 mm Hg, according to most experts - is called hypertension. About 90 percent of all people with high blood pressure have "essential" hypertension - meaning that it has no identifiable cause. In the remaining 10 percent of cases, the elevated blood pressure is due to kidney disease, diabetes, or another disorder.

Related Terminology:
Glucose:
A sugar that is the simplest form of carbohydrate. It is commonly referred to as blood sugar. The body breaks down carbohydrates in foods into glucose, which serves as the primary fuel for the muscles and the brain. Excess glucose is either converted by the liver to glycogen or turned into body fat.
Cholesterol:
A waxy, fat-like substance manufactured in the liver and found in all tissues. In foods, only animal products contain cholesterol. An excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
HDL Cholesterol:
High Density Lipoprotein - A transporter of cholesterol from the artery walls to the liver. HDL's help the liver excrete cholesterol as bile, a liquid acid essential to fat digestion. For this reason, HDL is called "good" cholesterol.
Ketone:
Relatively reactive organic compounds that serve as important intermediates in cell metabolism. The simplest ketone, acetone, is a product of the metabolism of fats and usually oxidizes quickly to water and carbon dioxide. In diabetes, however, this ketone accumulates in the body and may be detected in the urine.
Triglycerides:
The main form of fat found in foods and the human body. Containing three fatty acids and one unit of glycerol, triglycerides are stored in adipose cells in the body, which, when broken down, release fatty acids into the blood.
Low blood pressure, also known as Hypotension, can, in rare cases be a sign of underlying disease, but most of the time it is something to be grateful for. However, one form of temporary low blood pressure can cause lightheadedness. Known as orthostatic hypotension, it occurs when you stand up suddenly. Your cardiovascular reflexes work quickly to prevent blood from pooling in your ankles and legs, but a too rapid change in position may tax these reflexes, especially in older people.


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