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Knowing Your Blood Pressure Numbers Can Save Your Life

​There’s a reason why high blood pressure is called the “silent killer.” Did you know 1 in 3 people are pre-hypertensive, which means their blood pressure is high, but not high enough to be formally diagnosed as high blood pressure? This means 1 in 3 people are walking around without knowing they are at risk for a possible heart attack, stroke, and even kidney disease. I feel compelled to provide information about the significance of controlling high blood pressure with the recent death of famed director John Singleton, who allegedly died from a stroke due to uncontrolled hypertension.

In addition to getting your blood pressure checked during an annual doctor’s visit, you should also check your blood pressure on a regular basis. Did you know that you may be able to get reimbursed for purchasing an at-home blood pressure monitoring kit? If you already have a health reimbursement account (HRA) set up through your employer, you may be able to use funds in your pre-taxed account to purchase an at-home blood pressure monitoring device. You can purchase a blood pressure monitor with a cuff for about $34 dollars and a blood pressure wrist monitor for as low as $21. You can also get your blood pressure checked at your local pharmacy. However, in order to know if you need to see your doctor right away, you need to understand exactly what the systolic and diastolic numbers mean.

Diastolic and Systolic – What are they?

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats. If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say “120 over 80” or write “120/80 mmHg.” The mmHg means millimeters of mercury, which is the barometric pressure or air pressure generated by a column of mercury one millimeter high. Mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and is still used as the standard unit of measurement for blood pressure in the field of medicine. A blood pressure reading less than 120/80 mmHg is considered normal. A blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or more is high. People with levels between 120/80 and 140/90 have a condition called prehypertension, which means they are at a higher risk for high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is referred to as the “silent killer” because so many people do not know their blood pressure numbers. To make matters worse, most people do not realize they are pre-hypertensive, which can increase the possibility of having a hypertensive crisis. A hypertensive crisis requires emergency medical attention. If your blood pressure is higher than 180/110 mmHg and you are not experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness, weakness in your arm(s), changes in vision, or difficulty speaking, wait about five minutes and take it again in a seated position. If your blood pressure remains higher than 180/110 mmHg, then you should go to an Urgent Care facility or the closest emergency room, to make certain you do not have a heart attack or stroke.

  • Normal blood pressure is having blood pressure numbers that are within the range of less than 120/80 mmHg.

  • Prehypertension or early stage high blood pressure is when blood pressure is consistently ranging from 120-139/80-89 mmHg. People with prehypertension are more likely to develop high blood pressure if preventive steps are not taken to control it.

  • Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure is consistently ranging from 140-159/90-99 mmHg. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication to help lower your blood pressure. ​

  • Hypertension Stage 2 is when blood pressure is consistently ranging at levels greater than 160/100 mmHg. At this stage of high blood pressure, your primary care doctor is likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications along with referring you to see a cardiac specialist. One or both of these healthcare professionals may also prescribe lifestyle changes which can include a low-salt diet, regular exercise, and 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

​What Your Blood Pressure Numbers Really Mean

  • Systolic blood pressure (the upper number) indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.

  • ​Diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure (the top number) as a major risk factor for diagnosing hypertension and heart disease. For people over 50, the systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease. ​

Make sure you know your blood pressure numbers, so that you can take preventive measures to ensure you and your loved ones do not die from this silent killer. There are so many generic and brand medications on the market to help control hypertension, which can possibly help you avoid having a heart attack or stroke. Knowing your blood pressure numbers can save your life!

Be well!


American Heart Association (AHA). (2018, January). Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. Retrieved from:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016, November). High Blood Pressure Facts. Retrieved from:

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