Diet and Nutrition

Understanding Blood Pressure and How It Affects You

April 26, 2018   /



This Q&A patient handout highlights questions that patients frequently ask and answers from Nutrition411.


What is blood pressure?

Your blood pressure is the force or pressure that is the result of your blood pushing against your arteries as your blood is circulated throughout your body.

There are two numbers given when you get your blood pressure checked.

The first (or top) number is your systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure that occurs when your heart pumps blood to your body.

The second (or bottom) number is your diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure that occurs when your heart fills back up with blood.

What should my blood pressure be?

Ideally, your systolic blood pressure should be less than 120 and your diastolic should be less than 80. This would read as 120/80.

What is an abnormal blood pressure?

Hypertension is another term used to describe abnormal, high blood pressure.

You are considered to have pre-hypertension if your first number is between 120-139 and your second number is between 80-89.

You are considered to have high blood pressure or hypertension if your first number is greater than 140 and your second number is greater than 90

What if just my first number is high, but my second number is normal?

If your first number is greater than 140, but your bottom number is less than 90, then you are considered to have isolated systolic hypertension. This is the most common form of hypertension in older adults.

What are the dangers of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer.” You can have high blood pressure and still feel fine, but it is important to get your numbers under control. If uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart disease, heart attack, vision loss, and kidney problems.

What symptoms would I feel if I had high blood pressure?

You may not feel any symptoms of high blood pressure. That is why it is so important to get your numbers checked regularly by your doctor. High blood pressure can cause headaches, confusion, problems seeing, and chest pain. It is very important you see your doctor if you are feeling any of these symptoms.

What if my blood pressure is too low?

High blood pressure is more common, but you may suffer from low blood pressure or hypotension instead. This is defined as the top number being less than 90 or the bottom number being less than 60.

You may always have low blood pressure and that may be normal for your body. However, low blood pressure is bad when your blood pressure falls suddenly. Your body cannot recover as well.

You may feel weak, dizzy, or light-headed. Sudden low blood pressure can be caused from being dehydrated, standing for too long, or getting up suddenly from a seated position.

How can I improve my blood pressure?

Certain factors can cause someone to having high blood pressure. These include genetics, gender, age, and race.

There are many lifestyle changes you can make to improve your high blood pressure or reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3-4 days each week.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Watch your sodium intake. Foods high in sodium include canned goods such as soups and tomato sauces, deli meats, cheese, and condiments.
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep each night. 
  • If you smoke, cut back or quit altogether. 
  • Limit alcoholic drinks to two per day for men and one per day for women.
  • Reduce stress by learning meditation techniques, doing yoga, or talking to a friend. 

References and recommended readings

  1. High blood pressure. National Institute on Aging website. Updated April 17, 2015. Accessed May 14, 2015.
  2. Hypertension/high blood pressure health center. WebMD website. Accessed May 14, 2015.

Review date: 5/14/15