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What is systolic blood pressure?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Blood pressure numbers include systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

For years it was thought that systolic blood pressure was less important than diastolic hypertension. The upper number was thought to matter less than the lower number. In fact, doctors were hesitant to treat blood pressure in many of these cases.

Now researchers have shown that systolic hypertension is at least as important as diastolic hypertension as a cause of future heart attacks, strokes, and other problems. In fact, many older adults have systolic hypertension, which can cause just as much harm as high blood pressure when both numbers are elevated. In fact, if your systolic blood pressure (top number) is 140 higher, you may be more likely to develop kidney disease and cardiovascular disease even if the diastolic number (lower number) is not too high.

So, if the systolic blood pressure is consistently high, many physicians would favor treatment to lower the blood pressure number to normal. In fact, the blood pressure can be controlled effectively and safely in most cases.

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner
The systolic pressure is the maximum pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. The systolic pressure is recorded as the top number in the measurement of blood pressure.

When your physician takes your blood pressure, you will be told two numbers: the first number is your systolic blood pressure. This number tells you how much force your blood is exerting against artery walls when it is pumping through your body. Arteries are large blood vessels that deliver blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The systolic blood pressure is specifically the measurement of this force during a heartbeat - when your heart is pumping blood to the body. (The other number, your diastolic pressure, is the reading between heartbeats.) A systolic reading higher than 120 mmHg is above normal and may be an indicator that you need treatment for high blood pressure, or hypertension. Watching your weight and avoiding salt can help lower blood pressure if your numbers are not too high.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.