What does the blood pressure measurement mean?

By MAYS Latest Reply 2010-10-23 19:13:05 -0500
Started 2010-10-23 14:22:37 -0500

What does the blood pressure measurement mean, and what is high blood pressure?

When you get a reading, it usually looks something like 120/70 — it has an upper reading and a lower reading.

The upper reading, called the systolic pressure, is the amount of force exerted by the heart when it contracts to push blood around the body.

A cuff around your arm connects to a column of mercury.

You, your doctor, or a machine listens for the first sound you hear on the side of the cuff away from your heart.

That sound is the sound of blood finally able to overcome the pressure in the cuff and get through to the other side. The systolic blood pressure is the height of the column of mercury, read in millimeters, just as the blood comes through.

(Sometimes the cuff is not connected to a column of mercury but to a gauge that is calibrated so the reading on the gauge is in millimeters of mercury even though no mercury is present.)

In our example, the systolic blood pressure reading is 120 mm of mercury.

The lower reading, called the diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure in the artery when the heart is at rest. A valve in the heart keeps the blood from flowing backwards so that the pressure does not fall to zero (you hope).

When the sound stops, the height of the mercury column gives the diastolic blood pressure, in this case 70 mm of mercury.

All the complications of diabetes are made worse by an elevation in blood pressure, especially diabetic kidney disease but also eye disease, heart disease, nerve disease, peripheral vascular disease, and cerebral arterial disease.

The most recent evidence of the importance of controlling blood pressure in diabetes comes from the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study, published in late 1998. This study found that a lowering of blood pressure by 10 mm systolic and 5 mm diastolic resulted in a 24 percent reduction in any diabetic complication and a 32 percent reduction in death related to diabetes.

Controlling the blood pressure is absolutely essential in diabetes.


The goal in diabetes is an even lower blood pressure than in the person without diabetes because studies have shown that lower normal blood pressures result in less diabetic damage than higher normal blood pressures.

Your blood pressure should be no higher than 130/80.

(The above is taken from the book entitled, “Diabetes for Dummies” Chapter 7, Pages 147-148)
Don’t wait for your next doctor’s appointment to have your blood pressure tested, purchase a blood pressure monitor to test yourself at home and document your findings.


5 replies

GabbyPA 2010-10-23 19:03:58 -0500 Report

Just like self glucose monitoring, it is a good idea to keep tabs on things. Many people who have BP that gives them issues need to know what is going on, just as they need to know how to work it. We just picked up a home monitor for BP. No one has high blood pressure in the family, but it is a good thing to have just in case something happens and we need to know.

lauramushkat 2010-10-23 15:01:08 -0500 Report

I disagree that you need to have a monitor at home-not everyone uses them correctly and sometimes it makes them more nervous! One needs to talk to your doctor. Also, some people will use their monitor and not go to the doctor.

Seems to me if you blood pressure is out of control enough so you feel the need to have a monitor at home, you should be asking your doctor how to help control it better, UNLESS the doctor says s/he thinks it is better for your health to take care of it at home and offers to show you how to use it properly.

Otherwise I think you are spot on!

MAYS 2010-10-23 15:39:00 -0500 Report

Actually my recommendation is not intended to persuade anyone from visiting their doctor, it's to persuade others to take hypertension very seriously especially if you are a diabetic.

Most people test poorly when their blood pressure is taken at the doctors office (white coat syndrome aka lab coat disease is the cause of it) they become nervous when tested!

Being the silent killer that it is, hypertension is twice as damaging to diabetics.
I never suggest, or recommend to anyone to bypass professional medical care and help.

((( H )))'s


lauramushkat 2010-10-23 16:16:45 -0500 Report

I did not think that-but with Cozaar and that type of med it is now really easy for many people to watch their blood pressure go to where it should diabetic or not.

However, my late dh was a pharmacist, and as soon as a med goes over the counter counter, many people try to self help for any number of reasons.

Your doctor knows if you have white coat syndrome and takes this into consideration. If a patient is smart with the proper doctor who they can talk to then you tell the dr that you think things are haywire with your readings and ask advice on what to do about it. Again if the DR says you should take it at home then be sure the DOCTOR or NURSE shows you how to use it and you do not go home till you do.

jayabee52 2010-10-23 19:13:05 -0500 Report

I used to be a CNA in home health and so did A LOT of of BPs in the 11 years I did that. One of the things we had to do annually was to get our BP cuff checked for accuracy. (I also had to demonstrate proficiency in doing BPs annually) We were required to use a manual cuff and listen through a stethoscope. We weren't supposed to use the automatic BP cuffs because they were inaccurate.

I now have a wrist cuff, an automatic cuff, and the manual cuff I used as a CNA. I checked them recently against a BP cuff in the heart clinic. Wrist cuff was most inaccurate, followed by the automatic, and the closest was the manual cuff. I did note the variation between the automatic and the Clinic's cuff, because I usuaqlly use the automatic because, frankly, I'm too lazy to use my manual cuff.

My point here is it would be good to check whatever you use you might want to ckeck their accuracy against your Dr's so you know what the variation is, and then correct for it.

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