Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

Patients Arterial hypertension

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Why I Decided to Research BP Readings

In March of this year, I was sitting at my desk, not doing anything particularly strenuous, when I suddenly developed a pain in my chest.  My job was quite stressful and I had just taken a stressful phone call, but I was sitting down, not exerting myself at all.  I just passed it off, indigestion I thought to myself.  My colleague suddenly said, “Are you OK, you don’t look at all well”.

I told her I had a pain, but thought it was indigestion.  She went to make us a cuppa and by she came back, I was in more pain and my face was bathed in clammy perspiration.  No more to do, she picked up the phone and dialed my GP surgery, obtaining an appointment within the half hour.

My husband took me to it and the rest, as the saying goes, is history!  I ended up being transferred to hospital by ambulance, blue lights and all.  My blood pressure, it transpired, was 226/114!  That meant nothing to me, but everyone else seemed to be freaking out about it!

Five days later, I had a diagnosis of Angina and having entered hospital on very little medication other than pain and anti-inflammatory meds, I was discharged with a carrier bag full! 

I am one of those irritating people who has to have facts.  Knowledge helps me cope.  I need to have a plan and a direction.  It doesn’t matter if the plan subsequently changes direction, I need to have one to work to.  I simply do not do ‘limbo’.  I think the worst thing anyone could ever say to me is, “let’s wait and see what happens”!  Nooooo, let’s make a plan and make things happen!

This time ‘Limbo’ was exactly where I was.  I was told to await an Echocardiogram and a Myocardial Perfusion Scan and ‘keep taking the tablets’ until I was seen in Cardiology Clinic.

This was March, and in June I suddenly developed a horrendous rash over my entire body, excluding my face thankfully.  It transpires it has probably been triggered by Bisoprolol, a Beta Blocker.  I was taken off them and put on something that would supposedly do the job but were not a Beta Blocker.  Problem is, my blood pressure obviously doesn’t know they are supposed to keep it in check!

I started to feel ill one evening and eventually thought to check my blood pressure.  I dug out the little home monitor machine, something I brought immediately after the earlier scare but had not used for months, and sure enough, the reading was 172/100.  A call to 111 and a conversation with the out of hours GP later, I was on bed rest till the next morning.

I know a normal reading should be around 120/70, but I realised I had no idea at all, what those numbers meant or indicated, or when point a higher reading became dangerous.

OK, if I could have such a reading whilst on meds supposed to keep it down, maybe now was the time to find our more, to know what I was dealing with and stop trying to ignore it all.

I read all sorts on the internet, but the site I found most helpful and written in a way I could understand and relate to, was Blood Pressure UK.  The website is and is an excellent resource.

Blood Pressure UK is a charity.  You can become a member for £2 a month or £24 for the year and have access to all sorts of information sheets and booklets.

I won’t paraphrase here all I read on the site and in other research, but a potted version of the information follows, with my thanks to them for running such a wonderful resource.

What Is Blood Pressure?

When your heart beats, it pumps blood round your body to give it the energy and oxygen it needs.

Your blood pressure is the strength with which the blood pushes against the sides of the blood vessels.

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your heart and arteries, which may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Blood pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ (mmHg) and is written as two numbers. For example, if your reading is 120/80mmHg, your blood pressure is ‘120 over 80’.

What do the Numbers Mean?

Every blood pressure reading consists of two numbers which are shown as one number on top of the other.  The top number is your systolic blood pressure. It is the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats.The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure. It is the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats.

OK, so far so good.  I didn’t know that before, but I know understand what the difference is between the two numbers.

Normal Blood Pressure

An ideal blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg. At this level, we have a much lower risk of heart disease or stroke.  If your blood pressure is above 120/80mmHg, you will need to lower it.
Most adults in the UK have blood pressure readings in the range from 120 over 80 to 140 over 90. If your blood pressure is within this range, you should be taking steps to bring it down or to stop it rising any further, because the higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of health problems.

High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure is called Hypertension.  If your blood pressure readings are consistently 140 over 90, or higher, or if just one of the numbers is higher than it should be over a number of weeks, you probably have it. Often, there will be no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured

It is not known exactly what causes high blood pressure, but it is known that lifestyle can affect your risk of developing it. You are at a higher risk if:

you eat too much salt;

you don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables;

you are not active enough;

you are overweight; or

you drink too much alcohol.

Ouch, I tick three out of five of these boxes – salt, activity and weight!

Factors that increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which you cannot control include:

Age: as you get older, the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle can build up and your blood pressure can increase.

Ethnic origin: people from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities are at greater risk of high blood pressure.

Family history: you are at greater risk if other members of your family have, or have had, high blood pressure.

Double ouch – I tick two out of three of these too – I am over 60 and have a family history.  I guess I was sitting right in the middle of the bullseye on this particular target!

Some people may have high blood pressure that is linked to another medical condition, such as kidney problems. For these people treating the medical problem may lower their blood pressure back to normal.

High blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. This can cause them to become weaker or damaged and can affect your body in a number of ways:

Your heart: high blood pressure can cause you to have a heart attack. It can also cause heart failure.

Your brain: high blood pressure is a leading cause of strokes. It has also been closely linked to some forms of dementia.

Your kidneys: high blood pressure can cause kidney disease.

Your limbs: high blood pressure can cause peripheral arterial disease, which can affect your legs.

If you have other health conditions, such as diabetes or high cholesterol, this increases your risk of health problems even more. It is then even more important to lower your high blood pressure.

Low Blood Pressure

I must admit, suffering from high blood pressure and having family history of it, I had not gien thought to low blood pressure, called Hypotension. 

In general, low blood pressure may be good news, because the lower your blood pressure is, the lower your risk of stroke or heart disease. However, in a few cases, having low blood pressure can cause problems. 

A low blood pressure reading is 90/60mmHg, or lower.  Only one of the numbers has to be lower than it should be to count as low blood pressure. In other words if the top number is 90 or less regardless of the bottom number, this may be low blood pressure, but equally, if the bottom number is 60 or less regardless of the top number,  this may also be low blood pressure.

Usually, having low blood pressure is not a cause for concern and will not need treatment. However, sometimes your blood pressure can drop to a point where you may feel faint or dizzy.

If you find that your blood pressure is suddenly much lower than usual, there may be a reason for this so it would be wise to check it out with your GP.

So, there we have it folks – a potted course on blood pressure.  I am sure many of you knew all about it already, but if like me, it is something you are just being faced with, maybe this will make some sense of it all.

I have designed an Excel chart that helps me keep an eye on it and produces a graph of the results.  If you would like a copy I am happy to send you the file.


Beginning of the discussion - 17/09/2015

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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@Suncatcher2015  , Thank you , that was interesting . You sound very much like me ... I have to know the ins and outs of everything  . My blood pressure was 230/120 before I started taking medication for it . Mine runs in my family . I am sure that with readings like 172/100 , there is no way you are on the right medication / or the right level of medication . My readings are around 120/60 . I take 60mg of nifedipine and 20mg of lisinopril .. I have no side effects what so ever

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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I don't think I am on the right meds either @xDarenx - the Bisoprolol they took me off because of the rash seemed to be working, but according to the out of hours GP, the ones they replaced them with are the same as something else I am taking - I think a review is in order! 

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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Interesting comments. Thanks for the info.

I have purchased my own bp machine from boots it was about £20 5 yrs ago and was the same as my GPs.OMRON MX2 Basic.  Just bought my father one from Amazon and price is now about £40.  It records systolic (higher) Diastolic (lower) and pulse.  I have also downloaded some free apple apps of which I think the most useful is Heartstar as you can add more than one profile free of charge. the other one that I have kept and used for some time was BP.  I found these useful to be able to show the doctor when I visited if I had a larger reading in surgery because of "white coat syndrome" (where going to surgery results in higher than normal readings).

I use the above Apps and record my weight into them as well an they provide a useful summary for me over the year.  I nowadays record my bp once a month or so (as it is reasonably well controlled on Ramopril ACE inhibitor).  I also record my wife's bp as she has a tendency to hypotension.  We do 3 readings and the bp app averages them out for us for the day.  I would always recommend doing more than 1 reading and try to do the measurement in the same place every time, i.e. I have the machine on bedside table and record it sitting on the bed so that consistent results.  Good luck everyone:)

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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Thanks for the info @swerve - I will have a look at the apps.  I designed my own table that converts to a chart in Excel and check it four times a day at the moment, while it is zapping up and down like a yoyo.  I have the same machine, which I got off Amazon about three years ago but never used :(  If I had, I may have avoided all the drama of a near miss heart attack.

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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i am 42 i got high blood pressure and i on med to try and control at the moment my heat beat is between 73 and 80 this afternoon is that ok or should i keep i eye on my heat beat what should it be if you dont mind me asking you

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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For adults 18 and older, a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm), depending on the person's physical condition and age. (according to,     Looks like you are slap in the middle, so that sounds OK.  Might be worth asking your GP on your next visit, what he thinks you should be reading on that, but mine is anywhere from 71 to 103.  I am 20 years older and the heart rate is higher the older you get apparently, or so the internet says :)   Suncatcher2015    
Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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The trouble is that high blood pressure is to often ignored by GPs but great info. Now I just need to know about Low Blood pressure, my partner has had three heart attacks, now her readings are always low!

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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Hi @robjmckinney - have a look at this page - should give you some idea.

Blood Pressure Readings - What the numbers mean

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Well we were spurned on to look more deeply into the low blood pressure issues and the reason of my partners heart failure. It seems medical people identify four levels of such diseases, my partner at level three. 50% only live to year five or longer. So her time is numbered but we are quite hopeful of a few years yet. Perhaps reading this will motivate her to take seriously her condition and stop her bad habits of smoking and over weight. So your post was useful in our case as I can get on to her and encourage her to give those bad habits up and avoid level 4 for a few more years!  

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