Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Is my blood pressure normal?

Ask the doctor

Is my blood pressure normal?

Q. I'm a 75-year-old woman. The top number of my blood pressure is between 135 and 140, the bottom number around 75. My doctor says this is fine. Should I believe him?

A. Your question is important. If more people knew their blood pressure and asked "Is it normal?" some of the 700,000 strokes Americans suffer each year could be prevented.

National guidelines set a healthy blood pressure at a systolic pressure (the top number) below 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and a diastolic pressure (the bottom number) under 80 mm Hg. With age, the systolic pressure tends to rise and the diastolic tends to fall. Decades ago, doctors believed that it was normal for senior citizens to have a high systolic blood pressure, and drugs were usually not prescribed for this. Since then, many studies have shown that treating people "" young and old "" with systolic hypertension yields important benefits. In fact, the benefits of treatment appear to be greater with advancing age.

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