What does my blood pressure reading mean?


You probably can’t remember how many times you’ve had your blood pressure taken…or even what the numbers were. But blood pressure readings aren’t just for the doctor. They are important to monitor…and easy to understand!

Blood pressure is usually recorded as two numbers, written as a ratio.

Example: 118/85 (“118 over 85”)

Systolic: The top, higher number measures the maximum amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (the muscle contracts).

Diastolic: The bottom, lower number measures the amount of pressure in the arteries in between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting and refilling with blood).

Is the systolic or diastolic number more important?

Usually systolic (the top number) gets more attention, since it’s a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50 years old. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.

Ok, so now we understand WHAT those numbers ARE, but what do they MEAN? What is a “good” or “bad” blood pressure reading?

While BP can vary from minute to minute with changes in posture, exercise, stress or sleep, it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (less than 120 systolic AND less than 80 diastolic) for an adult age 20 or over. About one in three (33.5%) U.S. adults has high blood pressure.

Here’s a handy, helpful chart:


Don’t worry or diagnose yourself as having “high blood pressure” with one higher-than-normal reading. If you get a systolic reading of 180mm Hg or higher or a diastolic reading of 110 mm Hg or higher, wait a few minutes and take it again.

However, if your blood pressure stays at 140/90 mm Hg or above (systolic 140 or above OR diastolic 90 or above) over time, see your doctor about a treatment plan.

While you can take blood pressure readings and monitor yourself, it’s nice to have the help of a healthcare professional. So, come into any of our ProHealth offices or ProHealth Medical Care for a FREE blood pressure reading! It will keep you informed about your own body, and you’ll be in-and-out in a heartbeat!