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Heart disease

Your blood pressure: the one number that could save your life

There’s a reason why your healthcare provider checks your blood pressure regularly: It’s a vital piece of information when it comes to your overall health. Another reason is that most people don’t show any symptoms of high or low blood pressure.

It’s all in the numbers

A blood pressure reading is expressed as the systolic number “over” the diastolic number. For example: 120/80 millimetres of mercury — or simply “120 over 80”.

  • Systolic or “upper” number — the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats
  • Diastolic or “lower” number — the pressure in your arteries between heart beats

What’s normal for you…

Many things can affect your blood pressure (BP) and it varies throughout the day. Your BP is lower while you are at rest and higher when you are active, but it also changes with emotions, health conditions, medications, your environment and your own individual risk factors, like smoking.

Occasional changes in your BP are not necessarily cause for concern, but consistently high or low readings on either the systolic or diastolic number can be a sign — or cause of — serious health issues and should be investigated.

While the general rule is that 120/80 is considered “optimal”, that may not be the case for you. Your doctor will decide if your blood pressure is too high based on your age, any medical condition you may have and any medication you may be taking.

Checking it twice

At times, your doctor may decide to keep a closer eye on your blood pressure and arrange for more frequent visits. If necessary, your doctor may also recommend that you wear an “ambulatory blood pressure monitor.”

This monitor is something you wear for 24-hours (generally) and checks your blood pressure automatically every half-hour or so — perhaps every hour when you’re sleeping. The cuff is worn under your clothing and is connected to a small device worn on your belt that captures all the readings. Once your doctor downloads this information, he or she will have a better idea of your BP throughout the day.

Under pressure: the signs of high and low blood pressure

Here are some general signs of high and low blood pressure:

Hypertensive crisis/emergency

A drastic spike in blood pressure could have a serious impact on your overall health. Symptoms include:

  • Severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Irregular or difficult breathing
  • Vision problems
  • Seizure
  • Chest pain

High

High blood pressure is known as “the silent killer” for a reason: Many people with high-blood pressure do not know it because there usually aren’t any symptoms, but possible symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision / vision problems
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

Low

Some of us have low blood pressure and are perfectly healthy, that’s why only your doctor can decide what is too low for you. And just like high blood pressure, many people with low blood pressure don’t have any symptoms. If they do, symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Problems concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Shallow breathing / breathing very quickly
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Paleness
  • Thirst (more than usual)

A severe drop in your blood pressure may in certain instances contribute to serious health concerns, including lack of oxygen to vital organs.

Your blood pressure
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