So you want to donate blood, but you have some questions about high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension. Blood pressure is the pressure being put on your artery walls as your heart pumps blood throughout your body. Your blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, depending on activity. If the pressure is consistently too high, it may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is measured using two numbers (example: 120/80). The first number is your systolic pressure. That measures the maximum pressure being exerted against your artery walls when your heart beats. The second number is your diastolic pressure. That measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. When an American Red Cross staff member measures your blood pressure at the time of donation, they’ll use the measurement format “X over Y.” A normal blood pressure for most adults is less than 120 over 80.
Hypertension or high blood pressure is when blood flows through your arteries at higher than normal pressures. The guidelines for diagnosis vary among healthcare providers. Some define it as blood pressure that is consistently above 140/80, others if it is consistently above 130/80.
There are usually no warning signs or symptoms of high blood pressure, which is why it is called the “silent killer.” Most people don’t know they have it until it has caused serious problems. But if you do have high blood pressure, you are not alone. Nearly half of American adults have it. The best way to know is to get checked by your healthcare provider.
The causes of high blood pressure can vary. High blood pressure usually develops over time. Contributing factors may include smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, not engaging in enough physical activity, and/or having a family history of hypertension. Some pre-existing health conditions, such as being overweight and having diabetes, may also increase your chances of developing high blood pressure.
There are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure. For example, try a well-balanced diet with fewer processed foods since these tend to have higher sodium levels. You can also participate in regular physical activity, limit the consumption of alcohol, manage stress and quit smoking. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure can help prevent serious health problems such as heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
The Red Cross conducts a free mini health assessment when you come in to donate blood. Physical exam results can vary throughout the day. Stress, nutrition, illness, hydration, activity and environment can all affect the results of your physical exam. The Red Cross requires someone presenting to donate to have a blood pressure measurement of below 180 systolic (top number) and below 100 diastolic (bottom number) at the time of donation. Taking medication for high blood pressure does not disqualify you.
Don’t let high blood pressure stop you from coming in to donate! We’d love to welcome you to a blood drive or donation center soon.