Interpreting Your Blood Pressure


Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. It’s an important part of how the circulation of your blood and your heart works. Your blood pressure doesn’t stay constant throughout the day. It is lowest when you’re at rest (e.g. sleeping) , and rises when you get up and start being physically active. It can also go up when you are elated, happy, stressed, nervous depending on your emotions.

What do the numbers mean?

It is everyone’s desire to have a healthy, “normal” blood pressure. But what exactly does that mean? When a medical professional takes your blood pressure, it’s expressed as a measurement with two numbers, with one number on top and one on the bottom, like a fraction. For example, 120/80.

The top number refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during contraction of your heart muscle. This is called systolic pressure. The bottom number refers to your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats. This is called diastolic pressure. Both numbers are important in determining the state of your heart.

If you have higher numbers than the ideal range, that would be an indication that your heart is working too hard to pump blood to the rest of your body.

Blood pressure readings: What’s normal and when is it high blood pressure?

A healthy blood pressure reading should ideally be lower than 120/80 mmHg. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mmHg systolic and 80 mmHg diastolic (see blood pressure chart below), and may vary from 90/60mmHg to 120/80mmHg in a healthy young woman. However, a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher indicates high blood pressure.

Categories for blood pressure levels

Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults (Aged 18 Years and Older)
Blood Pressure Level (mmHg)
Category Systolic Diastolic
Normal BP < 120 and < 80
High-Normal BP 130 or 80 – 89
High Blood Pressure
Stage 1 Hypertension 140 – 159 or 90 – 99
Stage 2 Hypertension 160 or 100
* Isolated Systolic Hypertension > 140 and < 90



  1. 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 mmHg would be stage 2 hypertension (high blood pressure).
  2. ​*Isolated systolic hypertension is graded according to the same level of systolic BP.

Measuring blood pressure at home

Can you measure your own blood pressure? Of course, you can. You can measure your own blood pressure at home with a digital blood pressure device that can be purchased at most pharmacies. One should carefully read all instructions. To find out if you have made correct reading, you may wish to calibrate it with your family doctor. Remember to take note of your readings most especially if you have higher measurements. When is the best time to take the measurement? It should be when you are at rest.

Here are some tips that will help in ensuring the accuracy of your blood pressure reading:

  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Place your left arm, raised to the level of your heart, on a table or desk
  • Wrap the cuff of the monitor smoothly and snugly around the upper part of your bare arm.

Some Points to Ponder

Keeping your blood pressure in the normal range is crucial in preventing complications, such as heart disease and stroke. A combination of healthy lifestyle habits and medications can help lower your blood pressure. Weight loss is also important in keeping your numbers down.

Remember that a single blood pressure reading doesn’t necessarily classify your health in stone. Blood pressure readings taken over time are the most accurate. This is why it’s ideal to have your blood pressure taken by a healthcare professional at least once a year, or more often if your readings are high.

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