Understanding Hypertension & Blood Pressure Readings

Whenever you go to your doctor’s office, a nurse or medical assistant likely checks your blood pressure. Blood pressure is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease in the future, so keeping tabs on it is essential for continued cardiovascular health. But when you get those two numbers, what exactly do they mean, and how should you interpret them? As you may have guessed, blood pressure numbers are more complex than they seem, and the reading at your doctor’s office may only partially reflect your cardiovascular health.

Let’s discuss this further.

Knowing what the two numbers mean is essential to understand more about blood pressure. The top (systolic) blood pressure number is the pressure against the arterial walls as the heart beats. The lower number (diastolic) is the pressure within those same arteries between beats.

You may ask why blood pressure does not go down to zero when between beats. This is because the arteries are flexible and are pushed open during the heartbeat. When the heart is at rest for that fraction of a second, the arteries contract and create their own blood pressure.

Why the Blood Pressure Reading at Your Doctor’s Office May Not Be Accurate

We are willing to bet that you are the slightest bit flustered when you come to visit us. You might be rushing to arrive on time or have encountered an angry driver on the road. You may be coming off a stressful day at work or looking forward to something in the evening after your appointment. These positive or negative emotions can affect your blood pressure, typically raising it higher than it would generally be when sitting at home, relaxed and content.

So Why Take My Blood Pressure?

That’s an excellent question, and we take your blood pressure in part to see if it is trending upward. After all, blood pressure readings can tell us a lot about your cardiovascular health and potential lifestyle concerns. We discuss this during your consultation. However, there is a number that we pay special attention to: the trend of the difference between the upper and lower number known as pulse blood pressure.

What Is Telling About Pulse Blood Pressure?

If we find that the upper and lower numbers are beginning to diverge, there is some reason to believe that the arteries may be hardening and not performing as efficiently as they once were. If you remember what we just discussed, the diastolic blood pressure reading is related to the contraction of the arterial walls after a big blood push from the beating heart. If the arteries have hardened, there will be much less give during the heartbeat and consequently less snapback. This tells us that the arteries are in less than perfect health, and we can begin to consider some diagnostic follow-up tests.

So, now you know the importance of your blood pressure reading – what to take with a grain of salt and what to look out for. If your cardiologist has asked you to measure your blood pressure at home, it’s probably for a good reason: to understand more about your day-to-day cardiovascular health. Of course, if you have any questions about your blood pressure or cardiovascular concerns, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors and discuss what’s going on.