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Diastolic and Systolic

A man getting his blood pressure taken.

Measuring Your Blood Pressure

Measuring your blood pressure is quick and painless. A doctor or health professional wraps an inflatable cuff with a pressure gauge around your arm to squeeze the blood vessels. Then he or she listens to your pulse with a stethoscope while releasing air from the cuff and watching the gauge. The gauge measures blood pressure in millimeters of mercury, which is abbreviated as mmHg.

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure in your vessels when your heart rests between beats. If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say "120 over 80" or write "120/80 mmHg."


Effects of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can damage your health in many ways.

For instance, it can harden the arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. This reduced flow can cause—

  • Chest pain, also called angina.
  • Heart failure, which occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs.
  • Heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle cells die from a lack of oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.

High blood pressure can burst or block arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a stroke.


 
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