Friday, September 14th, 2018
Last modified on September 1st, 2022
Our blood pressure acts as a window into the health of our cardiovascular system. When blood pressure spikes too high or dips too low, it can be a signal that the blood vessels are struggling to supply enough blood to each organ in the body. If When this occurs, there can be a danger of a stroke, kidney failure, heart attack, and related complications.
If your doctor has advised you to manage your blood pressure through a change in diet, exercise, or medication, you might be wondering what your blood pressure numbers mean and why keeping them in balance is so important. This guide aims to shine a light on how blood pressure is measured and the role it plays in keeping all of our organs healthy and strong.
The muscles of the heart move in a cycle between a contraction and a resting state. When the heart contracts, it sends blood flowing through the vessels into the body’s organs. Blood pressure measures the weight of the blood pulsing against your arteries as it flows through the body in this heartbeat cycle.
You’re probably somewhat familiar with the common two-number system of measurement from the start of a doctor’s appointment when a medical professional takes and reports your blood pressure. The number on top is your systolic blood pressure — the pressure of the heart’s beat — and the diastolic number of the bottom records the pressure while your heart is at rest between beats. The numbers are calculated using a unit of measurement called mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury.
If anything restricts or slows the flow of blood through the heart, this in turn leads to complications in the circulatory system and all connected organs. With everything in the body working in tandem, blood pressure must remain in a healthy range to keep all systems properly supplied.
Over a period of time, high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) wears on the structure and resiliency of blood vessels, causing them to constrict and become less elastic. When a clot forms and becomes trapped in a clogged or constricted blood vessel, the resulting lack of oxygen to the brain causes an ischemic stroke. The longer this area of the brain goes without the flow of blood — and, necessarily, oxygen — the more damage can occur. Hemorrhagic strokes also result from blood vessels becoming over-worn and ultimately breaking.
A very sudden spike in blood pressure is known as a hypertensive crisis, and is a common sign of a major underlying or immediately life-threatening issue. At these sudden high-pressure levels, blood vessels are not able to sustain the flow of blood to the brain for long.
Low systolic blood pressure can be just as dangerous as hypertension, on the other hand. Contrastingly known as hypotension, the body experiences the most life-threatening level of shock when blood pressure dips too low. Similar to hypertension, low blood pressure can lead to complications including dizziness, breathing problems, heart or kidney disease as well as stroke.
To avoid any cardiovascular complications, blood pressure should remain as close to 120/80 as possible. As mentioned earlier, 120 is the systolic (active) number, while 80 denotes the diastolic (resting) pressure between the heart’s beats. Any systolic number between 120 and 140 (or diastolic between 80 and 90) qualifies as pre-hypertension, possibly pointing to an underlying issue in overall health or lifestyle.
On the lower range, each person responds differently to numbers below 120/80. Some may experience symptoms of low blood pressure much sooner than others, or at varying times in their lives. Generally, complications from hypotension increase significantly as blood pressure drops below 90/60.
Those in a hypertensive crisis — with a blood pressure around 180/120 — are at a high risk of stroke, whether they’ve already experienced a stroke in their lifetime or not. At this level of extreme pressure, blood vessels may be unable to maintain their structure and allow blood and clots to flow properly throughout the body.
It’s important for everyone with either low or high blood pressure to work regularly with a doctor to ensure their unique cases are demonstrative of a body that is healthy and balanced.
Although some symptoms of unbalanced blood pressure can be quite apparent — such as dizziness, chest pain, or shortness of breath — many people go a long time without even realizing they’re at risk for blood pressure-related issues.
Many risk factors can be addressed with lifestyle changes. Taking control of your diet and exercise routine is one of the most important strategies for balancing your blood pressure. Avoid a diet high in sugar, sodium, saturated fats and cholesterol, and create a simple and enjoyable daily workout routine that fits into your lifestyle. Consistency is key, so be sure to make changes that you can maintain and build upon.
Cigarette smoke, both first and second-hand, can damage the blood vessels. Doctors also advise against more than one or two alcoholic drinks per day at the most, as alcohol can add a dangerous level of artery-hardening triglycerides to your blood.
As some risk factors, such as age, race, or genetics, cannot be eliminated, keeping a close eye on your blood pressure with the help of your doctor is the best defense against stroke. This is especially crucial after experiencing an initial stroke. Both high and low blood pressure increase the risk of recurrent ischemic stroke, and a regular routine of exercise, controlled diet, and taking prescribed medications as recommended by your physician can help offset that risk.
Blood pressure measurement is a straightforward method for monitoring the body’s overall health. Before, during, or after a health crisis, work in tandem with your medical team to keep an eye on any gradual or sudden changes in blood pressure that rise above or dip below the health target of 120/80. Here at Saebo, we are committed to stroke support and recovery for all survivors and their families. Saebo offers a wide range of products that combine cutting-edge technology with evidence-based rehabilitation techniques. Our offerings and network of Saebo-trained therapists can help you or a loved one to obtain all the necessary tools to maximize stroke recovery.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.