What is Blood Pressure Anyway?

By: Breanna Salazar, PT, DPT, Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center

Blood pressure - you have it measured every time you see your doctor, but do you know what it means? Why does your health care practitioner check it every time you are in the office? You may know what your blood pressure measurement usually is, but how does that impact your overall health?

What are we measuring?

Blood pressure measures the pressure your blood exerts on your artery walls in two states, and are reported as a fraction.

1) Systolic - the pressure exerted against your artery walls when your heart beats

2) Diastolic - the pressure exerted against your artery walls when your heart is at rest between beats.

Normal, healthy blood pressure is defined by the American Heart Association as LESS THAN 120/80. This chart from the AHA demonstrates the most current guidelines for defining blood pressure levels:

Blood pressure can be impacted by many factors, and fluctuates throughout day. Some factors that affect blood pressure include genetics, time of day, activity level, daily stressors, diet and hydration, and tobacco and alcohol use.

Dangers of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly half of American adults. Most times, hypertension remains asymptomatic for many years. Symptoms usually only occur during a hypertensive crisis, and may include headaches, dizziness, change in vision, or shortness of breath with exertion. It is important to note that these symptoms are rare even at dangerous levels. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to severe medical complications including stroke, heart attack, weakening of your blood vessels, or even dementia.

Risk factors of hypertension:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
  • Lifestyle (i.e. diet and activity level)
  • Certain chronic health conditions.

What about low blood pressure?

We always talk about the risks associated with elevated blood pressure, so why don’t we talk about low blood pressure? Low pressure, or hypotension, is defined as pressure below 90/60, and can cause its own set of issues. If your blood pressure is too low, that means that your body may have difficulty transporting blood, and thus nutrients, to your tissues and organs, including your brain. Typically, people may experience blurred vision, lightheadedness, fatigue, and fainting. If left untreated, it can progress to dangerous or life threatening levels. Low blood pressure can be caused by multiple factors, but is usually due to dehydration, certain medications, heart conditions, or as a reaction to severe allergy or infection.

Many times, blood pressure issues remain asymptomatic, and the only way to know if there is an issue is to have it monitored at different times of the day. If you think you may have a blood pressure issue, please speak with your physician. Early detection and management is the best way to prevent future issues.

Bonus Fact

The sphygmomanometer, the cuff which measures your blood pressure, was first invented by Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch, an Austrian physician, in 1881.

Breanna Salazar PT, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy

E-mail: Breanna.salazar@rwjbh.org

Bree is a physical therapist at the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center in Livingston. She treats patients with both orthopedic and neurological conditions, with a special interest in craniofacial pain and temporomandibular joint dysfunctions. Bree completed her BS in biology at Ramapo College of NJ in 2014, and received her doctorate in physical therapy at Rutgers University in 2016. She completed LSVT Big certification in 2020 and is actively working towards her CCTT from the Physical Therapy Board of Craniofacial and Cervical Therapeutics. When she is not in the clinic, she enjoys walking with her dogs, spending time with family, and knitting.

The Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation centers are open and ready to help you achieve your goals. With four locations in West Orange, Millburn and Livingston, the experienced and compassionate staff at Cooperman Barnabas Rehabilitation offers adults and children the specialized care they need to resume an active life after surgery, injury or illness. They are committed to providing patients with the most advanced services in a safe, caring and soothing environment. For high-risk patients who are unable to visit in person, telehealth is an option. Patients do not need a prescription for physical therapy services.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 973-322-7500.