Free Blood Pressure Screenings

blood pressureMy son had his blood pressure checked at a recent doctor’s visit. He made a terrible face as the cuff squeezed his arm. I assured him he was going to live. After the nurse left the room he said to me, “what do the numbers mean?” I told him I was not sure, but your numbers must be good or the nurse would have said something. Not the best answer or the most reassuring, so I decided to educate myself. Blood pressure is commonly recorded as two numbers and written as a ratio. The top (or typically higher) number is your systolic pressure, and it measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom (or typically lower) number is your diastolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in the arteries between beats.

What are normal numbers? If you are a person age 20 or older, a systolic blood pressure reading of 120 or lower and a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80 or lower puts you in the normal range.  Your blood pressure changes throughout the day. It is lowest when you are sleeping and may go up when you are excited, nervous, or physically active. Systolic pressure readings of 140 or higher or diastolic pressure readings of 90 or higher are in the range for hypertension or high blood pressure. The range for high blood pressure does not change with age, and one reading in the range for hypertension does not automatically mean you have high blood pressure.

Even if your blood pressure is within the normal range there are things that you can do to minimize your risk for developing hypertension, especially because hypertension can take years to develop, and you may not experience any noticeable symptoms. Some of the risk factors for hypertension are advancing age, diabetes, family history, obesity, stress, or a sedentary lifestyle. Other risk factors include smoking, high intake of sodium, saturated fats, or alcohol. High blood pressure may increase your risk for further health complications, such as kidney failure, stroke, or heart attack. You can read more about hypertension/high blood pressure and the risks here.

dash dietIt is vital (recommended that you) to get your blood pressure checked regularly, even if you are symptom free. The HCLS Savage Branch has free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine on the second Monday monthly during the summer from 10-12 pm. You can also measure your own blood pressure at home with a digital blood pressure device that can be purchased from your local pharmacy or store. It is a good idea to calibrate your reading with your reading at the doctor’s office. It is best to take the measurement when you are at rest and at the same time every day.

The good news is that if you have high blood pressure there are things that you can do to modify your lifestyle and lower your blood pressure and your risk for other cardiovascular diseases. The next time you visit the library check out one of the books on hypertension or DASH-type (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.

I was just at the doctor’s last week, and I had my blood pressure checked. I immediately sent a text to my son with my readings—120/70. What are your numbers?

Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.