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        To understand hypertension, we must first understand blood pressure. We’ve all been to the doctor’s office and had the cuff on our arm squeezed too tight. Then the numbers come. “120 over 80, perfect” or “140 over 90, too high.” But, what do they really mean?

             Blood Pressure is the force applied against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body. The pressure is determined by the force and amount of blood pumped and the size and flexibility of the arteries.. 1

  When your doctor checks your blood pressure, he will give you 2 numbers. The first, or top, number is your systolic pressure. This tells you how much blood  flowing through your blood vessels pushes against the vessel walls as your heart beats.

The second, or bottom, number measures the pressure while the heart relaxes between beats. This is

the diastolic pressure. If your blood pressure is normal, your systolic pressure is less than 120 and your diastolic pressure is less than 80 - for example, 119/79.  (1,2)


1 National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute: www.nhlbi.gov

2  National Institute on Aging: www.nia.org




· Top number under 120 AND

· Bottom number    under 80



· Top number between 120 and 139 OR

· Bottom number between 80 and 89


High Blood Pressure


· Top number over 140 OR

· Bottom number over 90