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Understanding Blood Pressure Readings

Natalie
Stein
July 14, 2022
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In this article:

  • Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a health risk. 
  • Blood pressure readings can help you know which category your blood pressure falls into. You can use a blood pressure chart to check your blood pressure category.
  • Many factors can affect blood pressure. Understanding these factors can help get accurate measurements. 
  • Lark can help you monitor blood pressure and make everyday choices to manage it. 

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects nearly half of American adults. If you're monitoring your blood pressure at home, or you get your blood pressure measured in the clinic, it's important to know what those numbers mean. Here's what you should know.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of your blood pressure. You'll see your blood pressure reading as two numbers in a fraction. Mayo Clinic explains both numbers.

  • Systolic blood pressure is the top number of the fraction. It is the force when your heart beats. It is higher than diastolic blood pressure.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number of the fraction. It is the pressure when your heart relaxes between beats. It is lower than systolic blood pressure.

High blood pressure can increase the risk for stroke, heart attack, and other conditions. 

Blood Pressure Chart

A blood pressure chart can help with understanding blood pressure measurements. You can check which category corresponds to your systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements.

This blood pressure chart is from the American Heart Association (AHA). You can get it as a printable pdf blood pressure chart from their website.

Categories of Blood Pressure

The AHA explains what each category means and what you might want to do if your blood pressure falls in that category. This can help with understanding blood pressure readings.

  • Normal. No changes are needed right now. Keep measuring blood pressure as your healthcare provider recommends. 
  • Elevated. You're at risk for hypertension. Talk to your healthcare provider about which steps you should take. Lifestyle changes may be helpful at this point.
  • Hypertension stage 1. Your healthcare provider may suggest lifestyle changes. You might start using an antihypertensive medication if you're not already taking one.
  • Hypertension stage 2. You will probably need hypertension medications if you're not already taking them. Lifestyle changes can help, too. If you're on medications and you're still in hypertension stage 2, your doctor may ask you to try a different regimen.
  • Hypertensive crisis. Wait for 5 minutes. Then measure your blood pressure again. Lark will direct you to do this if you are measuring with Lark. If your blood pressure is still in this category, you need medical attention and should contact a healthcare provider immediately. Lark reminds you to do this.

If you are on blood pressure medications, keep taking them unless your healthcare provider says to change. This is important even if your blood pressure reading is normal while you are on medications. Stopping your medication can lead to increased blood pressure.

Understanding Variations in Blood Pressure Readings

Your blood pressure readings can vary. These are some factors that can affect your blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Being nervous can increase blood pressure. "White coat syndrome" is when you get your blood pressure taken in a provider's office and your blood pressure is higher than when you measure it at home. 
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, eating, and taking caffeine, such as from coffee, increase blood pressure. 
  • A full bladder increases blood pressure. It's best to measure after using the bathroom if you need to go.
  • Crossing your legs during the measurement increases blood pressure.
  • Having your arm lower than the level of your heart, instead of on a table or desk at chest level, increases blood pressure.
  • Talking during the measurement increases blood pressure.

The CDC has some tips for measuring blood pressure. Lark can also remind you of some best practices for taking blood pressure.  

If you have hypertension or are at risk for it, lifestyle changes can help manage blood pressure. Losing extra weight, eating well, and being physically active can help keep blood pressure in check. So can taking medications as directed if you have been prescribed any. 

Lark can help you turn healthy choices into long-term habits to manage blood pressure. With Lark, you can work on making small changes that fit into your lifestyle. Lark offers tips, tracking, instant feedback, and friendly suggestions. Your personal Lark coach is available 24/7 through your smartphone so you can get expert tips, track meals, physical activity, and weight loss. 

The entire program may be available at no cost to you if your health insurer covers it. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.

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