Blood Pressure

Blood pressure (BP) is the pressure exerted by circulating blood upon the walls of blood vessels, and is one of the principal vital signs.

What is blood pressure?

The beating action of your heart pumps blood through your arteries.  The arteries deliver the blood to the various organs and parts of your body.  This pumping action pushes blood against the artery walls and is termed blood pressure.

Each contraction of the heart muscle sends blood surging through the arteries.  This surging is measured as systolic blood pressure.  Systolic blood pressure is the maximum amount of pressure on your arterial walls.  You will recognize it as the larger number in your blood pressure reading.  Each time the heart muscle relaxes, it relieves the pressure on the arterial walls, this is known as the dystolic blood pressure.  You will recognize the dystolic blood pressure reading as the smaller number in your blood pressure reading. 

A healthy individual has arteries that are elastic and firm.  Healthy arteries can deliver blood to the body in an efficient and regular manner.  Unhealthy arteries cause the heart to work harder in an effort to get the blood to the body organs and parts resulting in high blood pressure.

What is high blood pressure?

Most physicians agree that high blood pressure is a consistent reading of 140/90.  Everyone has a blood pressure reading at or above 140/90 at some time in his or her life especially during times of stress, illness or physical exertion.  This temporary elevation of blood pressure is normal.  Consistently high blood pressure can do damage to your heart, kidneys, eyes and arteries.

What can be done to control blood pressure?

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medication to control blood pressure.  In most cases, blood pressure can be controlled with a low fat diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking and weight reduction.

Where should I go for a blood pressure reading?

Since high blood pressure is a disease without obvious signs or symptoms it is a good idea to get regular blood pressure screenings.  Saint Mary’s Student Health & Wellness Center offers free blood pressure screening here on campus.  If you see your family doctor at least once a year, request a blood pressure screening at each visit.  Otherwise, drop by the Student Health Center for a brief screening.