Systolic Blood Pressure

Most people seem to concentrate more on the top number of their BP reading and can remember it more. Systolic is a term heard more often when blood pressure is discussed. Therefore, what is the definition of systolic blood pressure?

Systolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure the blood is exerting against the artery walls when the heart beats pumping blood out. Systolic blood pressure is the top number of the blood pressure reading.

This article will dive deeper into systolic blood pressure. I’ll discuss if doctors monitor systolic more and does the elderly have higher systolic as they age? In addition, if you’re wondering what systolic number is considered high, keep reading.

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Systolic Blood Pressure

While the heart beats, it pumps blood out. When this happens the blood exerts pressure on the artery walls. This pressure is called systolic blood pressure.

The blood pressure reading has two numbers, a top number and a bottom number. Which blood pressure number is systolic? Systolic is the top number of the blood pressure reading.

Therefore, in the following examples of blood pressure readings, the systolic number is indicated:

  • 120/80 – 120 is systolic
  • 160/90 -160 is systolic
  • 100/70 – 100 is systolic

When the heart is resting between beats, the pressure against the artery walls is called diastolic blood pressure. I wrote a blog post on diastolic blood pressure which you can check out here, Diastolic Blood Pressure.

Systolic Blood Pressure Facts

  • Both blood pressure numbers are important and either number, including systolic, can be used as a diagnosis for high blood pressure.
  • For people aged 50 or older, doctors tend to monitor systolic blood pressure more closely.
  • High systolic blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Isolated systolic hypertension is the most common form of high blood pressure1.
  • It’s more typical for the elderly to have high systolic blood pressure but younger people can get it too.

Systolic Blood Pressure Ranges

The following are five systolic blood pressure ranges.

1. Normal Systolic Blood Pressure

A normal systolic blood pressure reading is less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic number less than 80 mmHg indicates normal blood pressure2.

For consistent blood pressure readings in this range, a doctor will typically suggest the following:

  • Follow a heart healthy diet.
  • Engage in regular physical activity.
  • Continue to avoid unhealthy habits like excess alcohol or smoking.
  • Monitor blood pressure readings.
  • Attend regular physicals.

I explain how and why normal blood pressure is no longer 120/80 in my article, Normal Blood Pressure – Surprisingly It’s Not 120 Over 80.

2. Elevated Systolic Blood Pressure

An elevated blood pressure reading is when systolic blood pressure is between 120-129 mmHg and diastolic is less than 80 mmHg.

If systolic blood pressure is elevated, the risk of developing high blood pressure is greater. For consistent readings in this range a doctor will typically recommend the following:

  • Recommend lifestyle changes.
  • Improve the nutrition plan.
  • Regular physical activity.
  • Avoid excess alcohol.
  • Stop smoking.
  • No illegal drugs.
  • Stress management.
  • Monitor blood pressure readings.
  • Attend scheduled physician visits.

3. High Systolic Blood Pressure Stage 1

A high systolic blood pressure stage 1 reading is when systolic blood pressure is between 130-139 mmHg, regardless of the diastolic number3.

Doctors will recommend lifestyle changes and may consider prescribing medicine based on the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Systolic is just one of over ten topics in my article, What Is The Blood Pressure Chart? All Five BP Categories. Check it out and find out why the elevated pressure range is a major concern moving forward.

4. High Systolic Blood Pressure Stage 2

A high systolic blood pressure stage 2 reading is when systolic blood pressure is 140 mmHg or higher, regardless of the diastolic number.

Doctors are likely to recommend lifestyle changes and medication.

5. Systolic Hypertensive Crisis

A systolic hypertensive crisis is when systolic blood pressure is higher than 180 mmHg4.

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:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back pain
  • Numbness/weakness
  • Change in vision
  • Difficulty breathing

If your numbers indicate a hypertensive crisis and you are experiencing one of the above symptoms you must go to a hospital immediately. The consequences of a hypertensive crisis can be severe or fatal.

I wrote a detailed post in this same website about hypertensive crisis. You can check it out by clicking here Hypertensive Crisis.

Isolated Systolic Hypertension

Isolated systolic hypertension is when the systolic blood pressure number is high and the diastolic number is low or normal.

Isolated systolic hypertension is when the systolic blood pressure is 130 mmHg or higher and the diastolic number is less than 80 mmHg. This reading would place blood pressure into the High Blood Pressure Stage 1 category.

If systolic blood pressure is 140 mmHg or higher with a diastolic number less than 80 mmHg, this places isolated systolic hypertension into the category of High Blood Pressure Stage 2.

Isolated Systolic Hypertension In The Elderly

Systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age. This is due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term plaque buildup and an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.

According to a recent study, persons who reached age 65, if they lived another 20 years, had a 90% lifetime risk of developing isolated systolic hypertension or high blood pressure5.

Isolated Systolic Hypertension In Younger Adults

The elderly are not the only ones who can get isolated systolic hypertension. Younger people get it also but many times they slip through the cracks and don’t receive the proper diagnosis6. This can happen for several reasons including:

  • High systolic blood pressure in the young is often considered an anomaly that will go away.
  • Younger people often have worse diets consisting of fast foods and high sodium.
  • Athletes in school often take steroids to increase their athletic performance and build up strength and muscle.
  • Some risk factors affect all ages including young adults.
  • Younger people often skip regular physicals.

Isolated Systolic Hypertension During Pregnancy

High blood pressure, including isolated systolic hypertension poses various risks during pregnancy including:

  • Placental abruption
  • Decreased blood flow to the placenta
  • Premature delivery
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Future cardiovascular disease

In 2007, a study of 3,470 pregnant participants showed 26% had isolated systolic hypertension. In addition, they found a first delivery at an earlier age increased the risk of isolated systolic hypertension7.

Isolated Systolic Hypertension – Other Causes

In addition to the causes listed above, isolated systolic hypertension can be caused by the following health problems8:

  • Anemia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart valve problems

I wrote a whole blog post about Isolated Systolic Hypertension which dives into the topics in more detail. You can read it by clicking here, Isolated Systolic Hypertension.

Low Systolic Blood Pressure

The American Heart Association doesn’t state a specific number at which blood pressure is considered too low, as long as none of the symptoms of trouble are present. Therefore, what is low systolic blood pressure?

Most experts define low systolic blood pressure as a systolic number less than 90 mmHg.

( Get my free Ebook which includes a breathing technique proven to lower BP 6 mmHg. Click the photo above or here for the free PDF )


What is systole? Systole is when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood from the heart into the arteries.

Systolic blood pressure is measured at the moment systole is occurring.

Read More – BP Related Articles

High Diastolic Blood Pressure Meaning

What The Numbers In A Blood Pressure Reading Mean

The Elevated Blood Pressure Range

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Systolic Hypertension []
  2. American Heart Association: Understanding Blood Pressure Readings []
  3. American College of Cardiology: New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension []
  4. American Heart Association: Hypertensive Crisis: When You Should Call 911 for High Blood Pressure []
  5. The American Journal of Medicine: Isolated Systolic Hypertension: An Update After Sprint []
  6. UTSouthwestern Medical Center: Hypertension in young adults shows long-term heart risks []
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Pregnancy-related factors and the risk of isolated systolic hypertension []
  8. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Systolic Hypertension []

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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