Ask a doctor: What do blood pressure numbers mean?

Medical doctor with a stethoscope around his neck holding

Q: What do the numbers in a blood pressure reading mean?

A: Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 are considered to be in the normal range and usually can be maintained with heart-healthy habits, proper diet and exercise. Those experiencing elevated blood pressure are at risk for developing chronic high blood pressure and the probability of adding medications to their daily routine to control the condition.

But what do the numbers mean and which is more important? The systolic blood pressure is the first number that indicates the amount of pressure on the artery walls with every heartbeat. The diastolic blood pressure number reflects the pressure on the artery walls when your heart is resting between beats.

An elevated systolic number creates an increased chance for cardiovascular disease in those over the age of 50.