Your blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers, such as 120/80 mmHg. But what do those numbers actually mean? The top number, known as your systolic pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number, known as your diastolic pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats when your heart relaxes and refills with blood. So in summary:
1）Systolic pressure = pressure when the heart is beating.
2）Diastolic pressure = pressure between heartbeats.
While both systolic and diastolic readings are important to monitor, they do not carry the same significance for health risks. Let’s take a deeper look at what each number means and how they differently impact your cardiovascular well-being.
Systolic Pressure: A Major Risk Factor
Elevated systolic pressure is a stronger risk factor for health issues versus diastolic pressure alone. Some key facts about systolic pressure:
1）It accounts for nearly three-fourths of the force exerted on artery walls with each heartbeat. Higher systolic pressure puts greater strain on the entire circulatory system over time.
2) Risk of death from heart disease or other cardiovascular disease doubles for each incremental rise of 20 mmhg systolic pressure above 115 mmHg. Even a 10 mmhg drop in systolic can decrease stroke risk by around 15%.
3) Systolic pressure tends to rise with age as arteries become less elastic. After age 50, isolated systolic hypertension where only the top number is high becomes more prevalent versus both numbers being elevated.
4) Conditions affecting artery stiffness like atherosclerosis can cause systolic pressure to spike during times of physical activity or stress when more pressure is needed to pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
The table below provides some perspective on how risks increase with higher systolic blood pressure levels:
|Systolic Blood Pressure
|Heart Disease Risk
|120 mmHg or lower
|Mildly increased risk
|Moderately increased risk
|160 mmHg or higher
|Severely increased risk
As shown, risks incrementally rise above 115 mmhg with more dramatic increases seen at 140 mmhg and over. While systolic pressure naturally rises with age to some extent, keeping it below 140 mmhg for as long as feasible helps guard against future cardiovascular problems.
So in summary, systolic pressure is a major health metric to focus on for preventing heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and other issues as it drives circulation. Lifestyle modifications and medication if needed can effectively lower an elevated systolic number. Systolic should always receive medical attention prioritized over purely isolated diastolic elevation, especially as one ages.
Diastolic Pressure: Also Important But Less So
While important, diastolic pressure alone exerts less force on arteries and is less of an independent risk factor than systolic pressure. Some key differences:
★ Diastolic pressure measures pressure in the arteries between heartbeats when the heart relaxes and refills with blood. Elevations are not as much of a direct risk as high systolic pressure.
★ Isolated diastolic hypertension where only the bottom number is high mainly becomes problematic after age 60. Younger adults are rarely diagnosed based on diastolic alone.
★ Conditions affecting artery flexibility like diabetes can cause diastolic pressure to rise as stiff arteries do not relax as much between heartbeats. But this effect alone is not as impactful as a systolic increase.
★ Lifestyle factors play more of a role in managing diastolic versus systolic which often needs medication management as well if significantly elevated. Diet, weight, activity, and stress relief can all positively impact diastolic numbers.
While the risks are not as high as those linked to systolic hypertension alone, the chart below provides an overview of increased heart disease risk that accompanies higher diastolic blood pressure levels as well:
|Diastolic Blood Pressure
|Heart Disease Risk
|Less than 80 mmHg
|Slightly increased risk
|90 mmhg or higher
|Moderately increased risk
So in summary, while diastolic hypertension is treated, it carries less independent risk than systolic hypertension. Both numbers provide useful info, yet controlling an elevated systolic takes medical precedence overall for heart health optimization, especially after age 50.
Other Important Considerations
When reviewing your blood pressure numbers, there are some other factors to keep in mind beyond just the systolic and diastolic readings:
★ Pulse pressure: The difference between systolic and diastolic. A wider gap may indicate stiff arteries needing closer monitoring.
★ Lifestyle: Diet, activity, smoking, alcohol, stress all impact both numbers and underlying cardiovascular health.
★ Readings over time: Isolated high readings may not be concerning, consistency of elevations matters more. Home monitoring provides a fuller picture.
★ Additional risks: Conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, etc complicate matters and necessitate tighter control of both pressures.
★ Age and family history: Younger adults rarely have issues with isolated diastolic, but risk is higher for those with a family history of early heart disease.
So in summary, while this article focuses on the primary difference between systolic vs diastolic blood pressure, considering readings within your full health profile yields the most meaningful perspective on personal cardiovascular risk. Both numbers play an important role when reviewed comprehensively by a medical care team.
FAQs about Systolic Blood Pressure vs Diastolic
Q: Is one number more important than the other?
A: Systolic pressure carries more independent risk and should take medical precedence if significantly elevated versus diastolic alone. However, both numbers together provide useful information, so maintaining optimal levels of each supports long-term heart health.
Q: How often should blood pressure be monitored?
A: If readings are normal, annual checks are usually sufficient. If high, more frequent monitoring—possibly daily self-checks at home—helps determine if lifestyle changes are controlling the numbers or if medication is needed. Consistency of elevations is more concerning than isolated high readings.
Q: What are considered normal or high blood pressure levels?
A: Normal systolic is under 120 mmHg and diastolic under 80 mmHg. Elevated is 120-129 systolic or 80-89 diastolic. High is 130 systolic or higher and/or 80 diastolic or higher. Numbers over 140/90 consistently indicate hypertension needing medical attention.
Q: Can lifestyle changes help lower my BP?
Yes! Adopting the DASH diet, losing extra pounds, limiting alcohol and sodium, managing stress, and regular exercise are natural approaches to try bringing both systolic and diastolic pressures down. Even modest 10-point reductions lower risks.
In conclusion, understanding the difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure provides useful insights for proactively managing this important health metric. While both matter, systolic pressure carries more independent risk and typically takes precedence medically if significantly elevated versus diastolic alone. However, optimizing both numbers supports lifelong cardiovascular well-being when viewed as part of one’s full health profile over time. Regular checks with a physician help determine if lifestyle modifications sufficiently control readings or if medication is needed.