what is the ideal blood pressure

Traditionally, an ideal blood pressure is considered to be around 120/80 mm Hg (read 120 over 80), but more and more experts believe that 115/75 (115 over 75) is an even better level for blood pressure.

This is because healthy people who exercise regularly, don’t smoke and have a balanced diet tend to have a slightly lower blood pressure than what was previously thought to be the normal level (120/80).

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What is normal blood pressure?

The first number (e.g. 120) – systolic pressure – represents the pressure in your blood vessels (arteries, veins) when the heart contracts and pumps blood into your body. The second number (e.g. 80) – diastolic pressure – represents the pressure in your blood vessels when the heart is at rest.

Guidelines concerning what a normal - or ideal - blood pressure is  have changed in recent years. It used to be that 120/80 (120 over 80) was considered normal, however most doctors have now lowered the threshold to 115/75.

From this level, if your blood pressure increases to 135/85 it roughly doubles your risk of having a heart attack. A blood pressure of 155/95 doubles this risk again (i.e. a risk 4 times higher than 115/75) and so on.

This is a new scale according to which every 20 point increase in systolic pressure (number on the left) and every 10 point increase in diastolic pressure (number on the right) doubles the chances of having a heart attack or stroke in people aged over 40.

On the whole if you can maintain a blood pressure between 90/60 and 120/80, you are as healthy as humans can be. Go below 90/60 and you fall into the category of low blood pressure, which is alright so long as you don’t suffer from any symptoms (fainting, dizziness, dehydration).

Measuring blood pressure - Guidelines

Here’s how to interpret your blood pressure readings:

  • Lower than 90/60 is considered low blood pressure;
  • 120/80 is (still) considered normal blood pressure;
  • Higher than 140/90 is considered high blood pressure.

Then:

  • Between 140/90 – 160/100 is stage 1 hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure);
  • Above 160/100 is stage 2 hypertension;
  • Above 180/110 is severe or stage 3 hypertension.

Put differently, it means that if your blood pressure is somewhere between 120/80 and 140/90 you are enjoying a normal blood pressure – although more and more doctors consider it the stage of pre-hypertension.

Keep in mind that pre-hypertension tends to get worse if you don't make the right lifestyle choices. It is a warning that you need to change your lifestyle (e.g. exercise more, eat a healthier diet) before it's too late. The closer you get to 120/80, or slightly below, the more you are likely to enjoy an ideal blood pressure.

Beyond these numbers, you may wonder “exactly what is normal blood pressure” or “what does it mean”.

On the whole, a normal blood pressure is one that is just enough for the blood to bring oxygen and nutrients to all the cells in the body without putting a strain on blood vessel walls. High (blood) pressure for instance damages these walls over time and leads to serious conditions from heart attacks and strokes to erectile dysfunction.

How far are you from the ideal blood pressure?

While most people are considered healthy when their blood pressure is below 140/90 (140 over 90), if you suffer from a cardiovascular disease, a kidney disease or diabetes, it’s recommended that you bring your blood pressure below 130/80.

If your blood pressure is between 140/90 and 160/100, you have a mild hypertension (stage 1). If your blood pressure is above 160/100, then you have more severe hypertension and you are much more at risk of cardiovascular disease, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.

Are you at risk?

Doctors generally assess your risk factors (age, sex, ethnic background, cholesterol, lifestyle, blood pressure) in order to determine your risk of developing high blood pressure in the long run.

All these factors will result in a 10-point score that determines your chances of getting a cardiovascular disease in the next ten years. Obtain two points or less on this score and your GP will recommend you to start a treatment along with radical lifestyle changes – as prescribed by the most recent UK guidelines.

Measuring your blood pressure is painless, quick and easy. However, since your blood pressure varies constantly depending on many factors (e.g. stress, anxiety), taking your blood pressure only once isn’t enough to determine whether you have high blood pressure.

If you've had a quite high blood pressure reading once, your doctor will need to perform more tests to confirm that you indeed suffer from hypertension (or not). Your doctor will then need an observation period during which he or she will take your blood pressure several times, when you are relaxed.

The observation period itself depends on your blood pressure readings as well as your risk factors (e.g. how many of them are combined in your case).

Regular check-ups

If your doctor has confirmed that you have hypertension, then you will have to go for routine tests every now and then. It consists in checking your urine, blood and heart beat (via the ECG – electrocardiogram) to make sure that everything is working fine, from your kidneys to your cholesterol and sugar levels.

The idea behind these tests is to better understand the causes of hypertension in your specific case and see how it will affect the heart, blood vessels or other organs. This will eventually help find the best treatment for high blood pressure that is adapted to you.

Naturally maintaining blood pressure

Still wondering what normal blood pressure is? It should be the one that your body is able to maintain in “normal” conditions – excluding diseases and unhealthy lifestyles.

So, how does your body manage to control blood pressure?

Controlling blood pressure is done through a variety of mechanisms. Your body can regulate the amount of blood pumped by the heart, the amount of blood in the arteries (via expanding and narrowing mechanisms), the amount of blood in the veins (which also expand and narrow – thus sending less blood to the heart), and the blood volume.

The blood volume is handled via the kidneys by adjusting how much urine is produced. Producing more urine – i.e. sending more blood to the kidneys – will therefore reduce blood volume and decrease blood pressure. On the other hand, sending less blood to the kidneys will increase blood volume (water is retained in the body) and increase blood pressure. That's why kidney diseases can cause hypertension and affect people who could otherwise enjoy an ideal blood pressure reading.

When you suffer from high blood pressure, what happens is that you are messing with a very complex system that requires this subtle adjusting to control the blood flow.

Therefore, if you find out that you have high blood pressure, it is very important to have it regularly checked and treated – via both medication and lifestyle changes.