General Health

Blood Pressure: What it is and why we need to ask

Key Takeaways

So what happens if you don’t know your blood pressure, or (let’s be honest) you aren’t even entirely sure what blood pressure means?

We have the answers just for you.

What actually is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your arteries, which are the vessels that carry blood around your body.

Why is blood pressure important?

High blood pressure, aka hypertension, can lead to serious conditions, such as heart attack or stroke. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Blood pressure that is consistently more than 130/80 should be evaluated by a doctor.

Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can cause symptoms such as dizziness or lightheadedness, fainting, blurred or fading vision, nausea, or fatigue, and in severe cases can be life threatening.

There isn’t really a set level where blood pressure is considered too low. It's more a case of if it is low enough to cause symptoms, or if it drops suddenly. In general, low blood pressure symptoms may happen when blood pressure is less than 90/60.

What do the numbers on a blood pressure reading mean?

Your blood pressure reading is made up of two numbers, for example, ‘120 over 80’ (120/80).

If you’re curious, these numbers refer to units of pressure measured in mmHG or millimetres of mercury (yes, really).

The top number (120 in the example above) is the systolic pressure. This is a measure of the pressure when your heart contracts and pushes blood through the arteries.

The bottom number indicates the diastolic pressure. This is the measure of the pressure when your heart relaxes between beats.

If you don’t know your blood pressure, finding out isn’t hard. Many pharmacies will have machines that allow you to get a blood pressure reading. Make sure you sit down and relax for a few minutes before taking your blood pressure reading, to ensure it’s as accurate as possible.

Why does blood pressure matter for birth control?

Medical researchers have found that birth control pills increase blood pressure in some women.

It’s more likely to occur if you’re overweight, smoke, have had high blood pressure during a previous pregnancy, or have a family history of high blood pressure or kidney disease.

The combination of birth control pills and cigarette use may be especially dangerous for some women, although this is not directly related to blood pressure.

Why does blood pressure matter for erectile dysfunction treatment?

Very simply, since ED medication has an impact on blood flow and circulation, your doctor needs to know what your blood pressure is to begin with.

Having high blood pressure may be indicative of underlying disease that should be identified prior to starting an ED medication. Doctors are also careful when prescribing ED medications that your blood pressure isn’t too low, as these medicines may lower it further.

In particular, if you are taking any medication containing nitrates for a heart condition you should not take ED medication.

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