This is a very good question! Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. The number on the top is called the systolic number. The number on the bottom is the diastolic. The systolic number is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is beating. The diastolic number is the pressure when your heart is relaxed between beats.
Blood pressure is considered normal when it is below 120/80 mm/Hg. If the systolic number is 140 or higher, OR the diastolic number is 90 or above, this may mean you have high blood pressure, or hypertension. But your doctor will not usually diagnose you after just one high reading. He or she may have you come back again, or may have you take your blood pressure at home.
As we get older, several things happen inside our blood vessels. Our arteries get more stiff and plaque builds up. This makes the pressure of the blood inside the arteries increase when the heart is pumping. Thus, the systolic number goes up as we age. Other things that can also cause the systolic number to go up include heart disease, anemia, thyroid disease and heart valve problems. Doctors pay very close attention to the systolic number because it is linked more closely with heart attack and stroke risk.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to bring down your systolic blood pressure. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor can help you get back on track. He or she will likely suggest lifestyle changes including healthy eating options and regular physical activity. If you smoke, you can get help quitting. If stress is a problem for you, ask for help in reducing it. You may need to take medication to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
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