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Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of your body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Each time the heart beats (about 60-70 times a minute at rest), it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is at its highest when the heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.Blood pressure is always given as these two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Both are important. Usually they are written one above or before the other, such as 120/80 mmHg. The top number is the systolic and the bottom the diastolic. When the two measurements are written down, the systolic pressure is the first or top number, and the diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number (for example, 120/80). If your blood pressure is 120/80, you say that it is "120 over 80." Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest as you sleep and rises when you get up. It also can rise when you are excited, nervous, or active. Still, for most of your waking hours, your blood pressure stays pretty much the same when you are sitting or standing still. That level should be lower than 120/80. When the level stays high, 140/90 or higher, you have high blood pressure. With high blood pressure, the heart works harder, your arteries take a beating, and your chances of a stroke, heart attack, and kidney problems are greater.
A blood pressure reading below 120/80 is considered normal. In general, lower is better. However, very low blood pressures can sometimes be a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor. Doctors classify blood pressures under 140/90 as either "normal," or "prehypertension." "Normal" blood pressures are lower than 120/80. "Prehypertension" is blood pressure between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number. For example, blood pressure readings of 138/82, 128/89, or 130/86 are all in the "prehypertension" range. If your blood pressure is in the prehypertension range, it is more likely that you will end up with high blood pressure unless you take action to prevent it.
Values apply to adults who:Are not on medicine for high blood pressure Are not having a short-term serious illness Do not have other conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease Note: When systolic and diastolic blood pressures fall into different categories, the higher category should be used to classify blood pressure level. For example, 160/80 would be stage 2 high blood pressure. There is an exception to the above definition of high blood pressure. A blood pressure of 130/80 or higher is considered high blood pressure in persons with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
In many people with high blood pressure, a single specific cause is not known. This is called essential or primary high blood pressure. Research is continuing to find causes. In some people, high blood pressure is the result of another medical problem or medication. When the cause is known, this is called secondary high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because you can have it for years without knowing it. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured. Using a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope or electronic sensor, your doctor or nurse can take your blood pressure and tell you if it is high. Even though high blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms, it is dangerous if it continues over time. It is important to find out if you have high blood pressure and, if so, to keep it under control.