| Tue, Feb 16, 2016 @ 09:00 AM

You May Not Know This about High Blood Pressure

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

high blood pressureHigh blood pressure increases heart risk. What does that really mean?

Let’s start with a definition of high blood pressure.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is stated as two numbers, one over the other. A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120 over 80, or 120/80.

The top number is the systolic reading. It shows the force of blood flowing in the blood vessels during a heartbeat. This is when the heart muscle is contracting.

The bottom number is the diastolic reading. It shows the force of blood flowing in the blood vessels in between heartbeats. This is when the heart muscle is resting.

  • A top number that’s 120 or higher is high blood pressure.
  • A bottom number that’s 80 or higher is high blood pressure.

Blood pressure goes up and down throughout the day and night. A single high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is diagnosed when systolic readings stay at 120 or higher over time or when diastolic readings stay at 80 or higher over time. Both numbers may be high, too.

What Do High Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

This is where heart risk comes in. Researchers have shown that heart risk changes, depending on which number is high.

  • A high top number, or systolic reading, may increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.1
  • A high bottom number, or diastolic reading, may increase the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).1

AAA is an enlargement of the aorta in the stomach area. The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart. An AAA can get so big that it bursts and causes bleeding into the abdomen.

The difference in heart risk is news for doctors and scientists. Up to now they believed that systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers had the same effect on heart risk.1 This could lead to changes in how high blood pressure is treated.

What Does This Mean for You?

You need to know what your blood pressure numbers are. You can have high blood pressure and not even know it. There are usually no symptoms.

You can check your blood pressure yourself. Many drugstores, health clinics and other public places have easy-to-use testing machines. You can usually use the machines at no charge.

Try to test your blood pressure on different days and at different times. It’s a good idea to keep a record of your test results to share with your doctor.

A healthy lifestyle is also important. Certain habits may help lower blood pressure or help keep your numbers in a healthy range. Try to:

  • Eat foods low in sodium and fat
  • Do some form of physical activity most days
  • Stop smoking, or never start
  • Learn to manage stress

Many Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans offer gym memberships to help support you in being physically active. Some gyms offer meditation or other stress-management programs. In addition, smoking cessation programs may be covered by Medicare. Check for program offerings at your local health clinic, YMCA, senior center or community center.


High blood pressure increases heart risk in more ways than one. Both numbers—the systolic reading and the diastolic reading—need to be in a healthy range.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about high blood pressure. Medicare Part B covers doctor visits and blood pressure tests. Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs to treat high blood pressure, if needed.

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For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


1Rapsomaniki E et al. Blood pressure and incidence of twelve cardiovascular diseases: lifetime risks, healthy life-years lost, and age-specific associations in 1.25 million people, The Lancet 2014; 31 May: 1899-1911.


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