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What is pulse pressure? Understanding the importance of a healthy heart

December 15, 2023
5 minutes
Personal Health
Healthy habits

Most people know about blood pressure and its connection to cardiovascular health, but have you ever heard of pulse pressure? This lesser-known number can actually be one of the first indicators of cardiovascular concerns. Here’s what you need to know about pulse pressure, its connection to your heart health, and how to use it to monitor your health.

What is pulse pressure?

Pulse pressure is a measure of the difference between the systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. It’s a lesser-known number that can have a big impact on your overall cardiovascular health.

Pulse pressure and its connection to cardiovascular health

To calculate pulse pressure, simply subtract the upper number and lower number of your blood pressure. It’s normal for this to increase as you age, but if the pulse pressure gets too high, it can indicate cardiovascular health problems, even before symptoms develop.

A high pulse pressure reading doesn't necessarily mean you have heart disease. However, it does mean you have an increased risk of heart disease. A high pulse pressure reading potentially increases the risk of both heart disease and stroke. Even just an increase of 10 mm Hg can increase heart disease risk by as much as 20 percent, according to research from the National Library of Medicine.

Low pulse pressures can also be problematic. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a low pulse pressure, when the pulse pressure is ¼ or less of the systolic blood pressure number, may indicate the heart isn’t pumping enough blood. This can indicate heart failure or heart valve disease in some people, and it can indicate a loss of blood in others after injury or due to internal bleeding. Thus, both low and high pulse pressures can indicate problems with your cardiovascular system.

Understanding the numbers: interpreting pulse pressure readings

A normal blood pressure reading for a healthy adult is typically 120/80. To find pulse pressure, subtract these two numbers. 120 – 80 = 40. You can find this any time you take your blood pressure reading using the same formula.

So, what does the number mean? Healthline indicates a normal pulse pressure reading falls between 40 and 60 mm Hg. Anything higher than this is considered high, while anything lower than this indicates a low reading.

Pulse pressure should be considered along with blood pressure. For instance, if someone has a pulse pressure of 60 mm Hg and a blood pressure of 120/80, which is normal for an adult, they’re at low risk for a heart disease event. However, if someone has a blood pressure reading of 180/120 mm Hg, they still have a pulse pressure of 60 mm Hg. That said, this is a high blood pressure reading, and as such, they're at risk for a heart disease event, even with a normal pulse pressure measurement.

Factors influencing pulse pressure

You may notice that your pulse pressure fluctuates. This is normal. Many factors can influence your pulse pressure.

Like your blood pressure, your pulse pressure may change with physical activity. Eating and drinking can also influence your pulse pressure. Even actions like talking and laughing can have an impact.

Age also impacts pulse pressure. Most people have higher pulse pressures as they age. This may be due to the way the arteries stiffen with age.

Interestingly, Mayo Clinic indicates that blood pressure medication may not have an impact on pulse pressure. While it’s important to take blood pressure medication to keep blood pressure numbers in a healthy range, if you have high blood pressure, you may notice that your pulse pressure remains where it is.

How to measure pulse pressure? Tips for accurate monitoring

Measuring pulse pressure isn’t hard, but you do need to do it accurately to give yourself a good picture of your cardiovascular health. Here are some tips.

Take an average of measurements

Because pulse pressure levels can change, you need to measure it more than once. Consider measuring it twice, with measurements taken about five minutes apart. Then, average your two measurements by adding them together and dividing by two. This may give you a more accurate pulse pressure.

Accurately measure blood pressure

Use a blood pressure cuff that you trust to measure your blood pressure. Consider taking your cuff to the doctor to have them verify that it’s accurately measuring your blood pressure. Sit still with your feet flat on the floor and your arm resting on the arm of a chair or couch when taking your blood pressure.

Monitor over time

A one-time pulse pressure reading that’s high isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. Keep tabs on your pulse pressure over time, and alert your doctor if you see a potentially hazardous trend.

How to improve pulse pressure? Lifestyle and wellness strategies

If your pulse pressure’s high or low, talk to your doctor first to rule out any health concerns that need to be addressed quickly. If your doctor doesn’t find any serious concerns, consider making some lifestyle changes that can support heart health.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Eating healthy foods that are high in fiber and low in unhealthy fats and sugars will support improved heart health. Start by swapping out snack foods for whole fruits and vegetables and high-fat meats for leaner cuts to make some small changes that can add up to big improvements over time.

Learn stress management

Another way to support your heart health is with improved stress management. While you can’t always eliminate stress, find healthy ways to deal with it, such as practicing yoga at home or scheduling downtime into your week.

Exercise regularly

Exercise, even if it’s as simple as a walk, is beneficial to your heart. Use a tool such as a step counter and pair it with Evidation to incentivize yourself to keep walking.

Increase your sleep

Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, whenever possible. Getting enough sleep reduces your stress and improves your overall health. When you sleep, your heart rate slows, and your cardiovascular system gets a break as well, which improves its health.

Get personalized health insights to track your health goals with Evidation

Early detection is a key factor in protecting yourself from cardiovascular disease, especially if you already have a diagnosis or are at high risk. Sometimes, you’ll need data to get the conversation going with your healthcare provider, and Evidation can help. Our personalized health insights can help you track your health goals and progress, while also giving you a talking point to help your care provider understand your concerns. Our Heart Health digital program can help you track your heart health throughout your daily life so that you can get the right data to your doctor. Read more about how Heart Health is helping people track and talk about their cardiovascular health, then download the app today to start tracking yours.

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