Blood pressure and heart rate myths are like children’s tall tales or even like diet myths…There’s always another one, and another one, and…You know how it goes.
1. As the story goes, blood pressure and heart rate “go hand in hand” (or arm in cuff!) in most people’s minds. After all, they always check these two together at the doctor’s office.
False: Blood pressure and heart rate are two separate, distinct measurements related to the health of your heart.
- Blood pressure relates to the force of blood flowing against the walls of your arteries
- Heart rate (your pulse) is the number of times your heart beats every minute.
It’s true that when you’re facing a threat, for instance, your blood pressure and pulse may both jump up at the same time. But, just because your heart rate goes up doesn’t automatically mean your blood pressure will climb as well, or the other way around.
However, sometimes, when the two are disconnected, it may signal a specific problem.
For example: If your blood pressure is consistently high but your heart rate stays in your typical range, your physician may need to look at treatment specifically for high blood pressure.
2. There’s only one “normal” rate for your blood pressure and one for your heart rate:
Flat Out False: There are guidelines, but what’s normal varies from person to person.
- The most desirable blood pressure is typically defined as 120 mm Hg systolic (the top number, which is the pressure as your heart beats) over 80 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number, which is the pressure as your heart relaxes).
- The preferred numbers for your resting heart rate, are between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
But remember: Both heart rate and blood pressure are personal. Variations may occur due to the amount of exercise you get, how much you weigh, your stress level or other pre-existing medical conditions or even some medications you take.
Work with your doctor to set up a baseline that’s normal for you.
3. “Low numbers” always mean there’s a problem
False again: What’s healthy for one person may be dangerous for another.
For instance, a young, fit person may have a resting heart rate in the 50s…in some cases, even the 40s.
This can actually be worn as a badge of honor, as a sign of being in really good shape.
Low blood pressure, however, is a little trickier, especially in older patients and people with heart disease.
If your blood pressure is dangerously low, however, your body will tell you. You just need to know your own body and be aware of the symptoms.
It’s all about how you feel. Are you dragging and feeling weak?
The numbers on their own don’t tell the story; it’s the numbers paired with how you are feeling and what symptoms you’re experiencing.
4. High blood pressure is more dangerous than high heart rate
This one is True: Again, “normal” varies. However, there’s a large body of clinical evidence to suggest that when blood pressure is even a little over your typical average over time, the risk of heart disease and stroke go up.
- The physical effects of high blood pressure take their toll on your blood vessels.
An elevated heart rate can be a sign of danger, too, but the cause-effect relationship is not so clear.
- Studies show that people who consistently run a faster heart rate are more likely to have cardiac problems and premature cardiac death.
However, scientists are not entirely sure if the faster heart rate is the cause of the problem or just a symptom of whatever is going on in the body.
5. When you measure your blood pressure and heart rate matters
True: To accurately measure your resting heart rate and blood pressure, pick a time when you’re feeling relaxed.
If you want an “average,” test both several times throughout the day.
BUT: Don’t take your readings right after exercising — unless you’re trying to show a baseline for “active” blood pressure and heart rate.
Whether your heart rate or your blood pressure measurement is more important also depends on your health.
For instance, in patients with atrial fibrillation, heart rate might be more important to watch, but many other heart diseases (such as strokes) depend more on blood pressure.
To be safe, measure both.
Almost all automated kits you buy at a drugstore are going to give you blood pressure and pulse on one readout. They’re convenient, easy to use and worth the effort if you want to stay on top of your health.
Word of warning: Don’t become obsessed with the numbers if you’re feeling healthy and your body is functioning well.
If something feels “off,” however, and you’re experiencing increased fatigue, shortness of breath, or any of the other symptoms of heart complications, write down your numbers, but ALWAYS contact your physician right away.