Blood Pressure Explained – What EXACTLY Is BP

blood pressure explained

While working in a healthcare facility, blood pressure is a term I hear all the time. Many of the patients talk about blood pressure with me because they know it’s something I possess a passion for. Everyone knows about blood pressure, and it’s not good to have it elevated, but do you really know what blood pressure is? There’s more to blood pressure than what people realize.

What is blood pressure? Your heart pumps blood into large vessels of the circulatory system every time it beats. The blood pumped into these vessels puts pressure on the walls of the vessels indicated by taking your Blood pressure.

When I was younger, I had no idea what the blood pressure numbers really meant. I didn’t know much about the various categories, how it’s recorded, its disorders, the symptoms, causes, risks or treatments. I did know one of the first things a nurse did when I walked into a doctor office was to take my blood pressure.

And why was that? Because blood pressure is one of the main vital signs that must be monitored on a regular basis. Too low or too high blood pressure is not a good thing and can spell severe consequences for you. Knowing what blood pressure is and all the factors involved will help you more understand this silent killer. Therefore keep reading because your health depends on it, here’s ALL the info you need to know about blood pressure and more.

Blood Pressure Explained

Blood pressure is one of the vital signs, along with the respiratory rate, heart rate, oxygen saturation, and body temperature. The heart supplies blood to the tissues and organs of your body. To accomplish this crucial task, every time the heart beats it pumps blood into the blood vessels of the circulatory system. As the blood moves through the vessels it puts pressure on the artery walls. Your blood pressure measurements indicate the pressure on the blood vessel walls (resource).

Blood pressure is influenced by the following:

  • The amount of blood the heart is pumping through your circulatory system.
  • The resistance of the arteries to blood flow. As the arteries constrict, the resistance increases and as they dilate (open up), resistance decreases.
  • Arterial stiffness. The stiffer and harder the blood vessel walls, the more the heart has to work to pump blood into the arteries. To make up for the lack of blood the blood pressure rises.
  • BP will vary depending your health, emotional state and activity.
  • In the short term, blood pressure is regulated by baroreceptors which constantly monitor your body. Baroreceptors are special receptors that detect changes in your blood pressure. Baroreceptors are found within the walls of your blood vessels.

blood pressure explained

The 5 Categories/Ranges That Explain Blood Pressure

I’m unsure if you know it but in 2017 new blood pressure guidelines were released. The following categories and their ranges reflect the current guidelines today. The following are the 5 categories of blood pressure from least serious to serious (resource).

Normal Blood Pressure

The normal blood pressure category is a systolic (or upper number) number less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic number (or lower number) less than 80 mm Hg. For your blood pressure to be in the normal range, the numbers would have to be equal to or less than 119 over 79.

If your Blood Pressure readings fall into this category, you should be very happy and stick with healthy habits like following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Make sure you see your physician for routine check-ups and keep track of your blood pressure at home. Doing this will help you maintain a normal blood pressure.

If for some reason you don’t have a doctor or health plan, check out the health plan service I recommend. They can find you an affordable health plan that’s right for you. You can check out my recommendation right here.

Elevated Blood Pressure

The elevated blood pressure category is when your systolic number is consistently between 120-129 mm Hg and your diastolic number is than 80 mm Hg. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to manage the condition. A physician typically recommends lifestyle changes to bring the blood pressure down to normal pressure.

High Blood Pressure Stage 1

This Blood Pressure category has a systolic number from 130-139 mm Hg OR a diastolic number from 80-89 mm Hg. In this range physicians typically suggest lifestyle changes and may consider medication based on your risk of cardiovascular disease. Note the word or between the systolic and diastolic numbers. This indicates that either number can give you high blood pressure stage 1.

High Blood Pressure Stage 2

This blood pressure category has a systolic number 140 mm Hg or higher OR a diastolic number 90 mm Hg or higher. If your blood pressure is consistently in stage 2, physicians are likely to prescribe a combination of changes to your lifestyle and blood pressure medicine.

Notice again the word or between the two numbers. Exactly like in stage 1 either number can give you high blood pressure stage 2. In addition, notice that in Stage 1, a doctor may prescribe medication but in stage 2 they are likely to prescribe it. This indicates the severity of the blood pressure range compared to the others.

Hypertensive Crisis

I’ve never experienced blood pressure this high and I hope you don’t either. If you do, please take it serious and follow the suggested guidelines! In this range the higher number is higher than 180 AND/OR the lower number is higher than 120. Take notice to the AND/OR because it’s extremely important. This means that for your blood pressure to be in hypertensive crisis only one of the 2 numbers have to be either higher than 180 for the systolic number or higher than 120 for the diastolic number.

A Hypertensive Crisis is when blood pressure rises quickly and severely. The severe consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure in this range can include the following if you have any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Loss of kidney function
  • Loss of vision
  • Aortic dissection
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss
  • Angina
  • Pulmonary Edema
  • Eclampsia

blood pressure explained

Hypertensive Crisis involves calling a Doctor or 911 depending of your symptoms. If you take your blood pressure and either number is 180/120 or greater, wait about 5 minutes and take it again. If the 2nd reading is just as high and you are NOT experiencing any of the following symptoms, then contact your doctor and be guided by them (resource):

  • Pain to your chest
  • Short breathes
  • Pain in the back area
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Changes to your vision
  • Difficulty breathing

When this happens, it’s called hypertensive urgency. The good part is you probably won’t need to be hospitalized. Your physician may have you add certain medicine or adjust the ones you already have.

If your blood pressure readings indicate hypertensive crisis and you ARE experiencing one of the above symptoms, get on the phone and call 911 immediately. Don’t let time pass by waiting to see if your readings get lower! This type of pressure is recognized as a Hypertensive Emergency. If you are interested in learning more about hypertensive crisis in complete detail you can check out my article on it in this same website by clicking here.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

Many people think that facial flushing, headaches or red eyes are symptoms of high blood pressure. I’m not sure if you know this, but one of the biggest myths is high blood pressure has symptoms. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, and it’s the same for stage 1. There’s a reason why it’s called the silent killer. There’s only one way to tell if you have high blood pressure for certain, that’s to have it monitored on a regular basis (resource).

Even if everything seems fine with your health, go to the doctor’s office once a year and have a physical exam. One of the things they will do is check your blood pressure. By the way, ask them to check blood pressure in both arms. Most physicians don’t do this even though it’s very important. I wrote a blog post on different blood pressure in each arm. It’s extremely important, if you want to take a look you can see it here. If you already have a history of high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, you need to monitor your blood pressure at home. There are plenty of affordable home devices on Amazon. I wrote a blog post with my recommendations, if you don’t have one already you’ll want to see my blog post.

Blood Pressure Disorders Explained

Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension)

Low blood pressure might seem desirable, and for some people, it causes no problems. What’s considered low blood pressure for you may be normal for someone else. The American Heart Association does not set a certain number where they consider blood pressure too low, as long as none of the signs of trouble are present (resource). Some experts define low blood pressure as a systolic number less than 90 mm Hg or a diastolic number less than 60 mm Hg.

Low Blood Pressure Symptoms

Most doctors will only consider chronically low blood pressure as dangerous if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Fainting
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dehydration and unusual thirst
  • Lack of concentration
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Depression

Low Blood Pressure Causes

  • Pregnancy
  • Prolonged Bed Rest
  • Heart Problems
  • Dehydration
  • Blood Loss
  • Endocrine Problems
  • Severe Infection
  • Nutrition deficiencies particularly B12 & B9
  • Severe Allergic Reaction

blood pressure explained

An isolated lower blood pressure reading is not cause for alarm unless you are experiencing other symptoms or problems. If you experience any of the above symptoms like dizziness, it’s a good idea to treat it like an emergency and go to the hospital and then consult with your healthcare provider. To help with your diagnosis, always keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.

Doctors typically try to identify and address the underlying health problem rather than the low blood pressure itself. If no underlying condition can be discovered, the goal becomes raising your blood pressure. This can often be done by:

  • Consuming more salt.
  • Drinking more water.
  • Wearing compression stockings.
  • Taking medications like fludrocortisone and midodrine.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

High blood pressure is when your blood pressure, which is the force of your blood pushing against your blood vessel walls, is consistently too high. Practically half of American adults have High Blood Pressure and normally you don’t know you have it. This is why it’s called the silent killer.

There are typically no danger signs or symptoms but it can cause major health issues for you. You’ll want to prevent High blood pressure because it can lead to more severe health ailments like stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

Typically, more attention is focused on systolic blood pressure as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50. However, either a high systolic or diastolic pressure reading can be used as a diagnosis for high blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure Risk Factors

1st are the risk factors that you cannot change but should be aware of. The following are risk factors related to who you are:

  • Age: As you get older, your blood vessels can lose some of their elasticity. The rigid arteries can increase your blood pressure.
  • Family History: Heredity can help you or go against you. Unfortunately, if your Mother, Father or other close relatives have high blood pressure, your chances are increased of getting also.
  • Gender: All the way up to 64 years of age, more men are likely to get high blood pressure than women. But at 65 years of age and older, the tables are turned and women are at a greater risk of high BP.
  • Race: Of all the racial backgrounds in America, African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
  • Chronic Kidney Disease: Kidney disease can cause high blood pressure. And visa versa, high blood pressure can cause kidney disease.

blood pressure explained

2nd are risk factors that you can change:

Nutrition: Crucial to your health, getting quality food from a number of sources is important. A typical meal plan that is high in sugar, sodium and saturated fats increases your chances of getting HBP. Choosing smart, healthier foods can help you avoid high blood pressure.

Get Off The Couch: Another critical way to increase your risk of HBP is not getting regular physical activity. Regular exercise can improve your health in so many ways, including blood pressure. Try to get about 20 minutes of some physical activity daily.

Obesity: Extra pounds on your body also adds extra stress on your health. Your heart, circulatory system and blood pressure included. Excess weight increases your risk of HBP and cardiovascular disease.

Excess Alcohol: Alcohol abuse can cause an endless list of health problems including stroke, heart attack, irregular heart beat, cancer and obesity to name a few. Blood pressure can also increase from the alcohol and other associated activities.

High Cholesterol: Over 50% of people with HBP also have cholesterol numbers considered too high.

Smoking and Tobacco: Smoking can cause temporary spikes in your blood pressure. Over time these spikes can contribute to your arteries getting damages.

Lack Of Sleep and Sleep Apnea: It’s not uncommon for people with high blood pressure to have sleep problems or disorders. In addition, sleep apnea may increase the risk of developing HBP.

Stress: Having stress can increase your blood pressure. Stress hormones, like cortisol, get released and increase heart rate and your pressure. Stress also leads to activities and habits that increase blood pressure like excess alcohol, smoking, unhealthy nutrition or illegal drugs.

Practice Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques are a great way to calm down and lower blood pressure. Consider pressure points, massages, deep breathing and listening to your favorite tunes.

blood pressure explained

Fluctuating Blood Pressure

It is typical for blood pressure to vary slightly throughout the day, but blood pressure that fluctuates from one extreme to the other should be monitored and managed. The following are possible causes of Fluctuating Blood Pressure:

  • Medications
  • Anxiety and Stress
  • Temperature
  • Illegal Drugs

The Following Are Risk Factors:

  • Improper medication or dosage
  • Diabetes and other blood sugar problems
  • Kidney Disease
  • Extreme Stress or Anxiety
  • Thyroid Problems
  • Heart Disease
  • Sleep Disorders

As with low blood pressure Doctors routinely try to identify and address the underlying health problem rather than the fluctuating blood pressure itself. If no underlying condition can be found, the goal becomes steadying your blood pressure by either lifestyle changes or medication.

Ways To Lower Blood Pressure Explained

There are many different ways to lower your blood pressure. I’ll explain to you each one that includes medication and natural ways to lower blood pressure. Of course these tips can be used to control your blood pressure when it’s not high.


If your blood pressure is high your doctor may prescribe medicine to help bring it down. The following are common blood pressure medications:

  • Diuretics: To lower blood pressure, diuretics helps to reduce fluid and sodium.
  • Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers help to lessen the amount of blood pumped and reduces heart rate.
  • Ace inhibitors: Taking ace inhibitors will less the amount of angiotensin. This helps to expand the blood vessels allowing the blood to flow easier.
  • Calcium Channel Blockers: Taking these will slow down your heart and open restricted arteries.
  • Angiotensin ll receptor blockers: They block the effects of angiotensin which helps expand the arteries.
  • Alpha Blockers: Alpha blockers help to relax the walls of blood vessels allowing an easier flow of blood.
  • Alpha-2 receptor agonists: They lessen the activity of the sympathetic portion of the involuntary nervous system.

blood pressure

Natural Treatments

Whether a doctor will recommend medications or not, lifestyle changes will always be advised. The following are the common lifestyle changes and habits that should be followed to help lower your blood pressure:

Relaxation Techniques

Try these proven methods to help lower blood pressure:

  • Pressure points like the 3rd eye
  • Breathing exercises like deep breathing
  • Self massages for the face, head and neck
  • Meditation
  • Warm baths

If you’re interested in learning more about the above relaxation techniques in complete detail, I wrote another article in this same website that you can check out by clicking right here.


Include These Foods Daily:

  • Chicken without the skin & Fish: The best fish are wild caught.
  • Fruits: Great ones are avocados, apples and kiwi.
  • Vegetables: Asparagus, spinach, broccoli and sweet potatoes.
  • Low sodium nuts like almonds and cashews.
  • Whole grains: Two of my favorites are oatmeal and brown rice.


Magnesium relaxes the muscles including your blood vessels which will help prevent them from constricting making your blood flow easier (resource). The blood pressure formula that I recommend contains magnesium as one of its main ingredients. You can see my recommendation in this same website right here.

The Top 5 Foods High In Magnesium:

  1. Spinach (Popeye The Sailor was a smart guy)
  2. Swiss Chard
  3. Dark Chocolate
  4. Pumpkin Seeds
  5. Almonds

blood pressure explained

Potassium and Sodium

This can drive you bananas 😉 but try maintaining the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. The potassium to sodium ratio lessens the amount of fluid stored in your body which helps to lower your blood pressure. Try to take in about 4,700 mg of potassium and 1,500 mg of sodium. If you have a job where you sweat all day long or an athlete that sweats a lot, then this sodium amount is not for you.

High Potassium foods include:

  1. Sweet Potatoes
  2. Leafy Greens
  3. Dried Apricots
  4. Bananas
  5. Beans

Physical Activity

By deciding to improve your lifestyle and taking charge of your fitness may be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. That choice is yours! So, get off the couch and enjoy about 20-30 minutes of regular physical activity every day.

Physical Activities Can Include:

  • Walks
  • Yoga
  • Jogging
  • High or Low Intensity Cardio

New 2017 Guidelines Changed Some Ways Blood Pressure Is Explained

In 2017 new blood pressure guidelines were released that replaced the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee issued in 2003 and overseen by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The new blood pressure guidelines were developed by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and 9 other health professional organizations. The new guidelines were written by a group of 21 scientists and health experts who reviewed more than 900 published studies. The guidelines underwent a careful systematic review and approval process (resource).

New Blood Pressure Guidelines Highlights

  • Before the new guidelines Normal Blood Pressure used to be UNDER 140/90. Normal Blood Pressure Is now UNDER 120/80.
  • Previous guidelines classified 140/90 mm Hg as High Blood Pressure Stage 1 hypertension. This level is now classified as High Blood Pressure Stage 2 hypertension.
  • High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130 mm Hg and higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement or readings of 80 and higher for the diastolic measurement. That is a change from the old definition of 140/90 and higher.
  • The new guidelines eliminate the category of prehypertension. This was used for blood pressures with a higher number (systolic) between 120-139 mm Hg or a lower number (diastolic) between 80-89 mm Hg. People with those readings will now be classified as having either Elevated (120-129 and less than 80) or High Blood Pressure Stage I (130-139 or 80-89).
  • By lowering the definition of high blood pressure, the guidelines recommend earlier intervention to prevent further increases in blood pressure and the complications of High Blood Pressure.
  • The new blood pressure guidelines stress the importance of using proper technique to measure blood pressure. Blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two to three readings on at least two different occasions, the authors in the blood pressure report said.

Instant Overnight Blood Pressure Category Classifications

Instead of 32% of U.S. adults having high blood pressure with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) having high blood pressure.

The group of people impacted the most from the new guidelines is expected to be greatest among younger people. The prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45, and double among women under 45 according to the new report.

Many of the public have good reason to believe this all has to do with “big pharma” and putting people on more medication. But the powers that be claim that’s not what this is about. They say when you look at the numbers not many more people will actually be advised to take medications than before. In addition, the new numbers are meant to detect blood pressure problems and cardiovascular disease sooner.

Many primary care physicians and Cardiologists in the Healthcare facility where I work, interviewed and conferred with were happy with these stricter measures. They liked that the new guidelines are accompanied by solid research, logistical guidance and useful management strategies.

blood pressure explained

Explaining How Blood Pressure Is Recorded

Blood pressure is recorded in 2 ways resulting in 2 numbers. The higher number and the lower number. The first number or higher number is your Systolic Blood Pressure. This number indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats pumping blood out.

The second number or lower number is your Diastolic Blood Pressure. This number indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats, refilling with blood (resource).

A nurse or doctor will measure your blood pressure with a small gauge attached to an inflatable cuff. They wrap the cuff around your upper arm. Some cuffs go around the forearm or wrist but often they’re not as accurate. It’s important the correct size cuff is selected for the patient. Too small a cuff results in too high a pressure, while too large a cuff results in too low a pressure.

They’ll inflate the cuff to a pressure higher than your systolic blood pressure and it will tighten around your arm. The pressure in the cuff is then released. As the cuff deflates the doctor or nurse will listen to the blood moving through your artery with a stethoscope.

The first sound he/she hears through the stethoscope is the systolic blood pressure. This sound is a whooshing noise. The point where this noise goes away is the diastolic blood pressure.

For an initial consultation blood pressure should be measured in both arms to determine if the pressure is significantly higher in one arm than the other. A difference of 10 mm Hg may be a sign of a heart defect. If the arms read differently, the higher reading arm would be used for later readings. I’m intrigued if anyone reading this ever had a doctor check both arms, it’s never happened to me.

Millimeters Of Mercury – mm Hg

The systolic and diastolic numbers are measured in the abbreviation mm Hg. The abbreviation mm Hg means millimeters of mercury. So someone who has a blood pressure reading of 120/80 (often spoken as “120 over 80”) has a systolic blood pressure of 120 mm Hg and a Diastolic blood pressure of 80 mm Hg.

blood pressure explained

How BP Monitors Measure & Explain Blood Pressure

Mercury Tube Sphygmomanometer

The 1st accurate blood pressure gauges used mercury. The mercury tube sphygmomanometer, aka blood pressure monitors, gauges or meters, are not commonly used anymore primarily due to concerns about potential mercury toxicity. Also, the cost, ease of use, mobile ambulance use and home blood pressure measurements have also influenced the change.

The mercury tube monitors are still considered the Gold Standard for measuring blood pressure and does not require recalibration. Because of their accuracy, they are frequently used in clinical trials of drugs and in clinical evaluations of high-risk patients, including pregnant women.

Mechanical Blood Pressure Monitors

Earlier automated blood pressure monitors that replaced mercury were seriously inaccurate but the more modern devices are held to a higher standard and are much more precise. Mechanical types with a dial are the most common and may require calibration checks, unlike mercury manometers. A major cause of the calibration becoming inaccurate is movement and jarring. The monitors mounted on walls or stands are not banged around as much and remain more accurate. As with any other device the more inexpensive monitors are known to be less accurate.

Digital Blood Pressure Monitors

Another type of blood pressure monitors are digital. They may use manual or automatic inflation but both types are electronic. These monitors are easy to operate, doesn’t require any training and can be used in noisy environments. I think most of us have seen these in your local pharmacy.

The digital monitors observe oscillations in the cuff pressure caused by oscillations in blood flow and the pulse rather than by listening to the whooshing sound inside our arteries. The pressure sensor should be calibrated periodically to maintain accuracy. I wonder how often the pharmacy machines are calibrated, if ever.

blood pressure explained

Home Blood Pressure Monitors

Home monitors come in 2 types, Digital and Aneroid. The digital monitor is a miniature version of the ones used in the pharmacies. The Aneroid monitor is similar to what a doctor or nurse uses in the office. The cuff is manually inflated by squeezing the rubber bulb, there is a dial gauge and you have to listen through a stethoscope. Some of the monitors come with a stethoscope and others don’t (resource).

If you buy an Aneroid home monitor make sure the dial gauge is large so it’s easy to read. In addition, most people buy one without a stethoscope because the ones included are usually a low quality. If you are interested in checking out some aneroid sphygmomanometers you can check out my recommended ones that I wrote about in this same website right here.

Wrist monitors are another type of home monitor that people like to use, especially on the go. They are small and more convenient to carry around outside the home. I suggest to only use one if you have to because they’re not as accurate as an upper arm cuff monitor. They are not as accurate for the following reasons:

Blood vessels: The arteries in the wrist are narrower and closer to the surface of the skin compared to those in the upper arm. The difference in the arteries and their location make the wrist blood pressure monitor less accurate.

Easier to make a measurement mistake: The #1 mistake that people are doing goes for all monitors but is committed more when people are using a wrist monitor. This mistake is in regards to the height of the blood pressure cuff at the time of measurement. The cuff must be at the same level as the heart. People are commonly placing their wrist monitor lower which can give false high blood pressure readings.

There are times when a wrist monitor is better for a person than an upper arm cuff. This can be due to a large size upper arm, mobility problems or a cone shaped upper arm. If for any reason you need a wrist monitor, I recommended one in particular that you can read about right here.

Managing Blood Pressure Is A Commitment

If you have High Blood Pressure it’s vital that you listen to your doctor. Remember you are a part of your healthcare team. You and your doctor are partners. Educate yourself how Blood Pressure is explained and learn how to monitor your blood pressure at home. Armed with this information, you can commit to living heart healthy!

Related Questions

When should you be concerned about blood pressure? You should be concerned about blood pressure when your readings are consistently above the normal range. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to manage the condition. If not, you can develop severe health issues.

Does the blood pressure category prehypertension still exist? The blood pressure category prehypertension does not exist anymore. The new 2017 blood pressure guidelines eliminated the prehypertension category. People with blood pressure readings that used to be considered prehypertension are currently classified as having either elevated or high blood pressure stage 1.

What is a good target blood pressure? A good target blood pressure would be any blood pressure reading that falls into the normal blood pressure range. A normal blood pressure reading is a systolic blood pressure less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mm Hg.

(Help Regain Control Of Your Blood Pressure & Check Out The BP Supplement I Recommend By Clicking Here) 
If you found this Blood Pressure topic interesting check out these related blood pressure articles also found in this same website:

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on blood pressure topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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