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Which is more important, systolic or diastolic blood pressure?

Both are important, but for those forty and older, systolic is more important than diastolic. Usually the systolic pressure is what increases our risk of having a heart attack, stroke or artery disease in the leg.

Studies show that the systolic number is more related to a person’s heart attack risk than diastolic blood pressure. But in younger patients, it’s important to look at the diastolic number because if it is high, that tells us they may have high blood pressure when they get older. In general, the systolic is more important than the diastolic.

In the past, your physician may have told you that your diastolic blood pressure number is the one that is more important. In the last few years, however, research has emerged that points to the systolic number as important as well, and perhaps more indicative of damage to your cardiovascular system than the diastolic number.

In a blood pressure reading, the diastolic number is the force of blood against your artery walls while your heart is at rest (in between heartbeats). The systolic number is the pressure on artery walls while the heart is beating. Your blood pressure reading is normally expressed as the systolic number first and the diastolic number second, 120/80 mmHg, for example.

A reading of 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg is classified as prehypertension, the point at which blood pressure is becoming too high and beginning to damage arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is any reading at or above 140/90 mmHg.

Ultimately, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure matter. The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute (NHBLI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines a patient as having high blood pressure if either systolic or diastolic blood pressure is high.

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