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What does my blood pressure test mean?

How often have you had a doctor check for your blood pressure and blindly believed him when he or she said, ‘Your BP is fine’?

How many times did you bother finding out what the readings were…even if you did, would you know what they really meant?

With words like ‘systolic’, ‘diastolic’ and ‘millimetres of mercury’ involved with every blood pressure reading, it’s not surprising that most of us leave the job to our trusted doctors.

But what we don’t realise is, that each one of us, is prone to high or low blood pressure – in today’s times, in fact, even more so. It is extremely important, that we not only understand the basic science behind it, but also familiarise ourselves with what levels are considered normal, how to keep high blood pressure under control and also how to keep regular check – no matter how healthy we claim our lifestyles to be.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure – quite simply – is the pressure with which your blood travels through the arteries in your body. And the easiest way to check what that pressure is, at any given point, is by stopping the flow of blood for a few brief seconds, only to slowly start it again.

The pressure, with which the blood begins to flow now, is the highest pressure it exerts on your arteries. This is the top number that your doctor reads out to you – the ‘systolic’ pressure – in effect, the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle. The bottom number – called the ‘diastolic’ pressure, is then your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats.

So how does one, externally, gauge this?  

Well, the device that doctors use as a blood pressure testing machine is called a Sphygmomanometer and the way it functions is pretty simple.

The balloon-like device wrapped usually around an arm, called the blood pressure cuff, is first pumped up and a stethoscope is used to listen to your heart beat simultaneously. When the cuff tightens to an extent that it cuts off blood flow, your heart beat can no longer be heard. That’s when the pressure is slowly released, while a close watch is kept on the pressure gauge. With the re-flowing of blood, the heart beat becomes audible once again. The pressure at this moment of time is then your systolic pressure – the number as reflected on the meter gauge.

The pressure on the cuff is released even further now, till once again the sound of the heart beat stops reaching the doctor. The pressure at this moment of time is then recorded as your diastolic pressure….both the numbers together signifying two vital things –

the pressure inside your arteries between heart beats (lower number) and the pressure inside your arteries when your heart is contracting (higher number)

What should your blood pressure range be?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a normal blood pressure reading needs to show a top number that is lower than 120 and a bottom number that is lower than 80.

If both your systolic and diastolic numbers are in these ranges, then you are considered within ‘normal range’.  Anything higher than this, might be an indication to change your lifestyle and take on more heart-friendly habits. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, longer and better sleep hygiene and losing weight are all advised to keep your heart happy and to keep hypertension (high blood pressure) at bay.

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