Blood Pressure: What Your Numbers Mean for Your Health

Dec. 11, 2019

In 2017, leading heart experts redefined high blood pressure for the first time in 14 years.

These blood pressure guidelines from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association give a lower definition of high blood pressure. According to the ACC, this new definition may result in nearly half of U.S. adults being diagnosed with the condition.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of your blood pushing against your blood vessel walls. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed when that pressure is consistently too high.

Your systolic pressure (the top number of your reading) is the pressure in the arteries as the heart beats. Your diastolic pressure (the bottom number of your reading) is a measurement of the pressure in the arteries as the heart muscle rests.

“Typically, the top number receives more attention, but elevated diastolic pressure alone also increases cardiovascular disease risk,” says Dr. Irfan Dadabhoy, a primary care physician at Houston Methodist.

Under the new guidelines there are now five categories of blood pressure. The prehypertension category has been removed from the guidelines.

Blood Pressure Guidelines, 2017

Why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked

“High blood pressure is sometimes called a ‘silent killer’ because it doesn’t cause symptoms and won’t be caught without regular blood pressure readings,” explains Dr. Dadabhoy. “Having high blood pressure makes you four times more likely to die from a stroke and three times more likely to die from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Dr. Dadabhoy says that the only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to have it checked. Most likely, your blood pressure is measured and recorded every time you go to your health care provider’s office. And, keep in mind, just because you feel "healthy" doesn't mean you can ignore your doctor's warnings about elevated blood pressure. Everyone's blood pressure matters, even if you're young.

It's important to talk with your doctor about the new high blood pressure guidelines and how they may impact treatment for your personal health situation. The goal is that by defining high blood pressure at a lower threshold, people will start working with their health care providers sooner to find ways to successfully manage the condition through lifestyle changes.

Tips for managing high blood pressure

“There’s no cure for high blood pressure, but you can successfully manage it with medication and living a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Dadabhoy says.

The following changes can help you better manage high blood pressure:

  • Monitoring your blood pressure regularly
  • Taking your medications as prescribed
  • Eating a well-balanced, low-salt diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight that you and your doctor have agreed on
  • Quitting smoking
  • Increasing potassium intake, if recommended by your doctor
  • Managing stress
  • Limiting alcohol