What do your blood pressure readings mean? The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it tested. Understanding your blood pressure readings is key to controlling high blood pressure. But, how do we read blood pressure?
What’s your hypertension stage?
Here are the guidelines for blood pressure range:
|Blood pressure category
|Systolic mmHg (upper number)
|Diastolic mmHg (lower number)
|Less than 120
|Less than 80
|Less than 80
|High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1
|High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2
|140 or higher
|90 or higher
|Hypertensive crisis (consult your doctor immediately)
|Higher than 180
|Higher than 120
The abbreviation ‘mmHg’ stands for millimetres of mercury. Mercury is used in medicine as the standard unit of measurement for pressure.
Are blood pressure and pulse the same?
Blood pressure and heart rate (pulse) are two separate measurements. Blood pressure refers to the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels, while your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. For those suffering from high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), measuring your blood pressure is the only way to diagnose yourself.
Heart rate and blood pressure do not necessarily increase at the same rate. For instance, when you are exercising, your heart speeds up so more blood can reach your muscles. It is possible for your heart rate to increase drastically, while your blood pressure responds by increasing only a moderate amount. Even though your heart is beating more times a minute, healthy blood vessels will dilate to allow more blood to flow through more easily.
Optimal blood pressure
Here are the optimal blood pressure goals as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO):
- Target blood pressure treatment goal of <140/90 mmHg in all patients with hypertension without other conditions.
- Target systolic blood pressure treatment goal of <130 mmHg in patients with hypertension and known cardiovascular disease (CVD).
- Target systolic blood pressure treatment goal of <130 mmHg in high-risk patients with hypertension (those with a high risk of CVD, diabetes, chronic kidney disease).
If your blood pressure is under control, a follow up should be done every 3-6 months. A monthly follow up after initiation of treatment should be done until you reach the target.
When to start hypertension treatment
You should go on hypertension medication if you have:
- Confirmed diagnosis of hypertension and systolic blood pressure of ≥140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure of ≥90 mmHg.
- Existing cardiovascular disease and systolic blood pressure of 130–139 mmHg.
- No cardiovascular disease but high cardiovascular risk, diabetes mellitus, or chronic kidney disease, and systolic blood pressure of 130–139 mmHg.
Check your blood pressure at home
Measuring and monitoring your own blood pressure is essential to achieving optimal blood pressure. Measure your blood pressure a few times a week using home blood pressure monitors. Here are some tips on how to choose and use a blood pressure monitor:
How to choose
- Select an automated monitor with a cuff that self-inflates
- Find a monitor that can plug into your smartphone to transfer the readings to an app, which then automatically creates a graph of your progress. Some monitors can also transfer data wirelessly to your phone.
- Choose a monitor that goes around your upper arm instead of your wrist or finger as they tend to be less accurate.
How to use
- Avoid coffee, tea, or alcohol for at least 30 minutes before taking a reading.
- Support your arm so that your elbow is at or near heart level.
- Sit quietly for 5 minutes with your back supported and legs uncrossed.
- Wrap the cuff over bare skin.
- Try not to talk during the measurement.
- Wait a minute before taking the second reading. If the readings are close, sum them up together and average them. If not, repeat them again and average the 3 readings.