What You Need to Know About Normal Blood Pressure
Recently in the United States, federal law stated that all patients to any medical personnel needed their blood pressure checked with each visit, even if patients had a history of normal blood pressure. In 2011, the UK health service revised their blood pressure guidelines that emphasize more tests, even to the point of wearing a blood pressure monitor. Free blood pressure testing machines are available in many pharmacies. What is the big deal about normal blood pressure numbers?
The Silent Killer
Heart attacks are called the silent killer because the patient often shows no signs of heart problems before an attack. A patient could be healthy, a non-smoker and maintaining a good body weight and yet still suffer a sudden heart attack. Strokes also come suddenly and without any warning symptoms. They may not kill a person suddenly like a heart attack, but can leave a person crippled.
The only warning sign of an impending heart attack or stroke is hypertension or high blood pressure. This is why your doctors are so obsessed with you keeping a normal blood pressure level. Hypertension can also be just one warning sign for the first stages of some kidney disease, which can help doctors quickly diagnose a sick patient.
What Is Being Measured?
A test to check for normal blood pressure only takes a few minutes. The test itself has become so routine that we may not realize just how complicated it is. For example, why are there always two numbers given in a blood pressure test? This is because two different aspects of your blood are being tested:
- Systolic pressure or the top number measures the pressure against your blood vessel walls when your heart beats by contracting and pushes out blood. This number is always higher than the bottom number. Normal numbers range from 90 to 120.
- Diastolic pressure or the bottom number is the pressure on your blood vessel walls in between heartbeats. If your diastolic number is nearly the same or greater than your systolic pressure, you will not know it because you will be dying or at least unconscious. Normal numbers range from 60 to 79.
Squeezing your arm with the testing cuff helps make taking the test much easier for a doctor of nurse to read. They squeeze while listening for your pulse with a stethoscope. When the pulse is heard, the systolic pressure number is noted and the pressure is released. When the pulse cannot be heard anymore, that is the diastolic pressure number. Hopefully, you will have a normal blood pressure result.
Blood pressure can be different for each arm. Some doctors like to take readings of both arms and then average the results. The National Health Service in the UK has noted that some patients get very nervous when visiting the doctor and getting their blood pressures taken. This is called “white coat syndrome” and is common, but the nervousness raises the blood pressure. In order to make sure you really have hypertension and not white coat syndrome, you may need to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours.