Health care providers measure blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer (sfig-mo-muh-NAH-muh-ter), which has a cuff that's wrapped around the upper arm and pumped up to create pressure. When the cuff is inflated, it squeezes a large artery in the arm, stopping the blood flow for a moment. Blood pressure is measured as air is gradually let out of the cuff, which allows blood to flow through the artery again.
The guidelines, from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), now define high blood pressure as 130 mm Hg or higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or 80 mm Hg or higher for the diastolic blood pressure measurement. (Systolic is the top number, and diastolic is the bottom number, in a blood pressure reading.) Previously, high blood pressure was defined as 140 mm Hg or higher for the systolic measurement and 90 or higher for the diastolic measurement.
When a blood pressure reading is taken, the higher number represents the systolic pressure and the lower number represents the diastolic pressure. For example: 120/80 (120 over 80) in an adult means that the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80. As kids grow, their blood pressure increases from a systolic pressure of about 70–90 (as babies) to adult values (when they're teens).
"The implications and potential benefits of such healthier lifestyles could be great, particularly since about 22% of the adult population falls into the prehypertensive category," says Chobanian, who is also dean of the Boston University School of Medicine. "In fact, the blood pressure effects of weight reduction or adoption of the DASH eating plan can be comparable to those achieved with any single blood pressure medication."
Stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback or transcendental meditation may be considered as an add-on to other treatments to reduce hypertension, but do not have evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease on their own. Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.