|Top Blood Pressure
Measurement More Important
Than Bottom, Researchers Say
(CNN) -- The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) has issued a new health advisory for diagnosing and treating high blood pressure.
For years, doctors thought the top number in a blood pressure reading was the less
important measurement, and that it was normal for this number to
rise with age. But now, NHLBI says the opposite is true.
The agency says the top number is actually more critical -- and should be
kept below 140, regardless of age.
KNOW THE NUMBERS
High systolic pressure (top number) means the maximum pressure within your arteries during
each heartbeat is great enough to eventually damage vessel
High diastolic pressure (bottom number) means your heart and blood vessels don't relax
well between beats.
Normal -- Less than 130/ 85 mm Hg
High-normal -- 130 to 139/85 to 89 mm Hg
Hypertension -- Consistently greater than 140/90 mm Hg
A desirable blood pressure level to achieve is 120 or less (systolic)
over 80 or less
Blood pressure is a measurement of two factors. The top number is the systolic blood
pressure, which measures the force the pumping heart exerts on the blood vessels. The
lower number is the diastolic blood pressure, which is measured when the heart relaxes
"Isolated systolic blood pressure increases the risk of stroke, coronary heart
disease, heart failure, and renal disease," said Dr. Edward Roccella of the NHLBI.
"Lowering isolated systolic blood pressure has been shown to have benefits in
reducing death and disability for these conditions."
The NHLBI advisory says everyone's blood pressure should be kept below 140/90.
But for those with high-risk conditions, the government agency advises more stringent
control is needed. Diabetic patients should keep their pressure below 135/85 and those
with heart or kidney failure should reduce their blood pressure as much as possible.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is sometimes called the silent killer because many
people never know they have it. Some 50 million Americans are
"For the most part, people don't have symptoms," said Dr. Robert Phillips of Mt.
Sinai School of Medicine. "Occasionally people might feel fatigued or have a slight
headache, but for the most part, people don't feel anything."
Experts say that's why it is important for people to see their doctors regularly for a
simple blood pressure check.
"The sooner we get people in the treatment, the sooner we get them to change their
lifestyle to prevent blood pressures from rising, the better chance of preventing an
event, which we call a heart attack, a stroke or kidney
failure," Roccella said.
May is national high blood pressure month. The new advisory is published in the journal
Hypertension, published by the American Heart Association. It is also available on the
NHLBI Web site.