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What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart
pumps blood. When a health care professional measures your blood pressure, they
use a blood pressure cuff around your arm that gradually tightens. The results are
given in two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, is the
pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood. The second
number, called diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure when your heart relaxes and
fills with blood.
A blood pressure reading is given as the systolic blood pressure number over the
diastolic blood pressure number. Blood pressure levels are classified based on those
two numbers.
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is systolic blood pressure
lower than 90 or diastolic blood pressure lower than 60. If you have
low blood pressure, you may feel lightheaded, weak, dizzy, or even
faint. It can be caused by not getting enough fluids, blood loss, some
medical conditions, or medications, including those prescribed for
high blood pressure.
Normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as a systolic
pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80.
Elevated blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure between
120 and 129 with a diastolic pressure of less than 80.
High blood pressure is defined as 130 or higher for the first number,
or 80 or higher for the second number.
For older adults, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second
number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic
hypertension and is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most
common form of high blood pressure in older adults and can lead to serious health
problems in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, light-
headedness upon standing too fast, and falls.
One reason to visit your doctor regularly is to have your blood pressure checked
and, if needed, plan how to manage your blood pressure.

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