What is a good number for healthy blood pressure? 

Good question. 

I have the honor of taking my mom’s friend to her cardiologist appointments, and today I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Ashul Govil a few questions about this very subject. I had always heard that the perfect blood pressure was 120 for your top or systolic pressure and 80 for the bottom or diastolic number. Although Dr. Govil agrees with those basic numbers, there are certain variables that have an impact on your heart health, which can alter the numbers, up or down. 

First, it’s good to know exactly what blood pressure represents and why it is important to be aware of your numbers. When your heart beats, it squeezes and pushes blood through your arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on those blood vessels, and that’s your systolic blood pressure, the top number. The diastolic reading, or the bottom number, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats, fills with blood and gets oxygen.

Dr. Govil explained that the pressure of the blood in the circulatory system is measured for heart-related diagnosis since it is closely related to the force and rate of the heartbeat and the diameter and elasticity of the arterial walls. Monitoring these numbers and taking preventative action can help deter heart attacks or strokes.

He further explained that as we age our arteries don’t compress as easily, which can at times give a false reading on a blood pressure machine. The systolic number is much more important in determining heart-related issues, but both should be watched for any upward or downward swings. 

If your systolic pressure is elevated above 135 or the diastolic blood pressure is more than 90, your doctor will probably want to check it every three to six months and recommend some minor lifestyle changes like more exercise and a better diet. This is known as type 1 hypertension. Depending on your other health issues, you may get medication and be asked to come back to recheck your condition in a month. The cardiologist will try different medications and dosages to get a perfect balance – if you have high pressure, they should slowly bring it down. 

Someone with stage 2 hypertension (140/90 or higher) will likely get medication and also be monitored more frequently than every three to six months. 

Keeping track of blood pressure at home is important, especially if it’s on the high side. This helps you and your doctor find out if your treatment is working. Several medical supply places or local pharmacies carry machines that are easy to use and can help you keep tabs on those numbers. Govil suggests to take it at the same time every day for conformity, keep a log of the numbers and, if you begin to have a pretty consistent normal reading, cut back to a few times a week. Taking your own blood pressure at home can sometimes be as good – if not better – than doing it at the doctor’s office because many people have what’s called “white coat hypertension.” It’s a real condition. The stress of being in a doctor’s office tends to raise your blood pressure, but when you’re home, it’s normal. If your blood pressure is over 180 on the top, this is a hypertensive crisis and should be checked immediately, even if it means calling 9-1-1.

High blood pressure is a threat but being too low can also be worrisome. It’s indeed a juggling act and a good cardiologist can help balance that with medication if deemed necessary. If your number is below 100 on the top and under 50 on the bottom, it can be dangerous. Dizziness from pressure that is too low can result in a fall. You may not feel ill but if it is too low, it can make you feel very tired and lethargic. Either way you should check with your physician if there is a change in the norm for you. When you wake up in the morning it is a good idea to sit for a moment on the side of the bed before getting up if you are experiencing any dizziness. I think it’s a smart thing to do anyway since I am usually a bit groggy in the morning and jumping out of bed is no longer in my vocabulary!

Everyone is different and my blood pressure has always been a bit low. I run about 110/70, which according to my doctor is normal for me. I am not a physician, and these figures are just a guideline and not set in cement. The best advice I can offer is to go for your usual physical and if your primary care physician notices any problems with your blood pressure, you can nip it in the bud and avoid risks. Get a referral to a good cardiologist who has a kind and patient nature with seniors. As for Mom’s friend, she had a great check up!  

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at marla2054@aol.com.