Blood pressure ranges explained: how to measure yours

If you’re shopping for a blood pressure monitor, we can help. In our guide to breaking down the lingo, we explain how to make sure you’re fit for the home blood pressure test, what health conditions should make you think twice before you buy, and what your blood pressure measurement tells you. .

At Which ?, we test arm and wrist blood pressure monitors under laboratory conditions to find the best blood pressure monitors that offer precise measurements, and models that cannot be counted on despite their high prices. Once you’ve used our expert reviews to find the best blood pressure monitor, the next step is to master how to use it.

Keep scrolling for more details on the blood pressure range and tips on how to prepare before taking a reading.

Otherwise, take a look at our Best Buys blood pressure monitor to find out which models? recommended.

Blood pressure range explained

When you use a blood pressure monitor to measure your blood pressure, you are measuring the pressure of your blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it throughout your body.

Your blood pressure range is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is recorded as systolic and diastolic numbers. But what is the difference?

  • Systolic pressure is the pressure of the blood when your heart pushes it back.
  • Diastolic pressure is the blood pressure when your heart is resting between beats.

If your GP tells you that your blood pressure is “130 over 90”, or 130/90 mmHg, you have a systolic pressure of 130 mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg.

According to advice from the NHS website, a blood pressure between 120/80 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg could mean that you are at risk of developing high blood pressure. To prevent this from happening, you need to take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.

What is considered a normal blood pressure range?

Your blood pressure reading should ideally be less than 120/80 mmHg. However, anything between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80 mmHg is defined as ideal or “normal” blood pressure.

People with ideal blood pressure have a much lower risk of heart disease and stroke. If you commit to a healthy lifestyle, you will be able to maintain this level.

What causes arterial hypertension?

You are said to have high blood pressure (sometimes called hypertension) if separate readings consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90 mmHg or higher. If you have kidney disease, diabetes, or another condition affecting your heart and circulation, your target blood pressure should be below 130/80 mmHg.

High blood pressure can potentially put strain on your arteries and organs, so it’s worth seeing a healthcare professional who can help lower your blood pressure to an ideal level.

But remember that blood pressure levels vary throughout the day. If you record a single high reading, take follow-up readings over the next two days to see if you notice any changes.

There are various reasons why you can have high blood pressure. Your lifestyle plays an important role – being overweight, drinking alcohol, and smoking can all increase your blood pressure.

What you eat also has an impact on your blood pressure. In fact, according to Blood Pressure UK, eating foods high in sugar can make you fat, which in turn raises your blood pressure. Too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol.

What causes low blood pressure?

Low blood pressure is not as serious as high blood pressure, but it is still worth treating because it can cause dizziness and fainting.

Some people have naturally low blood pressure which is okay – genes can play a role. Low blood pressure can also be caused by a disease or health problem such as diabetes, neurological disorders, heart problems or serious injury and shock.

The NHS website suggests that you try the following to relieve symptoms of low blood pressure:

  • Rise slowly from a sitting to standing position
  • Be careful getting out of bed
  • Eat small but frequent meals
  • Increase the amount of water you drink each day
  • Try to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Don’t drink caffeinated drinks at night
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol

Ultimately, if you are concerned about low blood pressure, your first step should be to contact a healthcare professional for further advice.

How to lower blood pressure

You can help prevent or reduce high blood pressure by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and not smoking.

When deciding how to change your diet, pay close attention to food labels in your local supermarket – you want to reduce your salt intake (the NHS recommends less than 6g per day) and stick to low-fat foods, including including fresh fruits and vegetables.

How to monitor your blood pressure at home

Using a home blood pressure monitor can help you monitor your blood pressure on a daily basis rather than just taking it in clinical conditions where you might be more anxious, which could affect your readings.

A home blood pressure monitor can help you set up a schedule so that you can share the results with your healthcare professional. It can also help you see how the new treatments are working for you and what impact they are having on your body.

Be aware of what can raise your blood pressure when you take a reading at home: even having a full bladder or crossing your legs can increase it.

When you buy a blood pressure monitor, you should check whether the model has passed international standard clinical tests. This information is also available from the British Hypertension Society. Certain groups of people may have special needs:

  • Pregnant women should verify that the monitor they are considering purchasing is validated for use during pregnancy – not all are.
  • People with atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias should not rely on an automatic blood pressure monitor to give accurate measurements.

People in either of these categories should discuss this with their doctor or nurse before purchasing.

If you need to monitor your blood pressure at home, note that Which? expert opinion on blood pressure monitors measure the ease of use for each model. In other words, we’ll tell you which blood pressure monitors are not as accurate as you want them to be.

Using an arm monitor

How to take a blood pressure reading

When using your blood pressure monitor, you should be seated with your arm straight and supported, on the armrest of a chair or cushion, for example. You should be calm and relaxed, sit for five minutes before reading, and not too hot or cold.

Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly – for example, if they tell you to position the tube in the center of your arm in line with your middle finger, that’s exactly what you need to do to get accurate readings.

And make sure you have wrist monitors at the height specified – it’s more difficult to hold your wrist monitor in the correct position than an arm monitor, which makes the readings more prone to inconsistency.

To help you shop knowledgeably, we’ve put together a detailed guide to how to buy the best blood pressure monitor

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