Crunching the numbers: What blood pressure numbers mean

February 01, 2016 By Jan Paris, M.D.

Do you remember the last time your blood pressure was checked and what the numbers were? While knowing your blood pressure numbers is important, it's also good to know what those numbers mean and if you should take action to help lower them.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is quite common and without symptoms. It is potentially dangerous as it can prompt stroke, heart failure and kidney disease/failure.

Normal blood pressure is ideally 120 over 80. The systolic or top number of the blood pressure is a measure of the force of the blood against the arteries as the heart contracts. The diastolic pressure or lower number represents the pressure during relaxation.

Not infrequently, your blood pressure may be high during your doctor's visit and it is important for your doctor to determine whether it's truly high. For example, if your blood pressure is high at one reading, your doctor may wish for you to have your blood pressure checked on several occasions in the office or at home.

If your blood pressure is elevated at several readings then your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan which may include diet, including salt restriction to less than 2 grams a day (2,000 mg), exercise, weight reduction, and medication.

At times a single medication may get your blood pressure to the ideal level, or multiple medications may be needed to achieve the desired goal. It's important to be compliant with your medicines and to be in contact with your physician regarding any intolerance to medication.

Dr. Jan Paris is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff. For a physician referral, please call 1.855.HHC.HERE (1.855.442.4373).