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Katie Lajiness

3 Facts About Blood Pressure

What those numbers mean and why they matter.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that moves blood through your body. Every time your heart pumps, it pushes blood to your arteries. If your blood pressure is too high, your heart is working extra hard to push the blood, which can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes.

My blood pressure measurement is always two numbers. What do they mean?

A blood pressure reading measures what are called systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
For example, you may have heard your doctor say, “Your blood pressure is 120 over 80.”

  • The first number — Systolic blood pressure shows how much tension your blood puts against your arteries with each heartbeat.
  • The second number — Diastolic blood pressure shows how much pressure your blood puts against your arteries while your heart rests between beats.

What's a normal blood pressure measurement?

A reading of 120 over 80 is considered healthy, but that also depends on a range of factors, including age and gender. The key point: The higher the numbers, the more potential for problems. That's why it's important to get your blood pressure checked regularly by a doctor — and to follow their advice to bring down the numbers if they're high.

– Katie Lajiness is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer