The information below is designed to help you understand what your latest blood pressure readings may mean for your health -- and to provide tips on what you can do to get or keep your blood pressure in a healthy zone.
NOTE: This information isn't a substitute for medical advice provided by your doctor. If you think you might have hypertension, elevated blood pressure, or hypotension, be sure to discuss your blood pressure concerns with a doctor or nurse, who can help you factor in other important information, such as other medical problems you may have. In particular, the information below and in the related links may not always apply to those who are very old, very frail, or have multiple chronic medical conditions. View the full blood pressure chart.
Definitions of blood pressure terms
Systolic (the upper number in the reading) is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats; it measures how hard the heart muscle is working to pump blood throughout the body.
Diastolic (the lower number in the reading) is the pressure of the blood against the blood vessel walls between heartbeats when the heart is relaxed.
What a blood pressure reading of 81/55 means
Readings below 90/60 usually indicate low blood pressure, or what's called HYPOTENSION, meaning the pressure in your arteries is at the lower end of what's considered normal. Some people with blood pressure this low may be prone to weakness or fainting, but many people feel just fine. If you're taking blood pressure medicines, they're probably lowering your blood pressure more than they need to, and they should be adjusted. It's also possible to get low blood pressure as a side effect of certain medications.
If you're not on any blood pressure medicines, there's usually no need to be concerned about low blood pressure unless you're experiencing negative symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, nausea, or fatigue. In fact, hypotension isn't usually diagnosed unless the patient is experiencing symptoms.
What to do if your blood pressure reading is 81/55
Check your pulse. When the body is feeling strained by the low blood pressure, the heart often compensates by beating faster. If your pulse is over 90 or if you feel unwell, call your doctor for advice, especially if the low blood pressure is unusual for you.
If you're taking blood pressure medications, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosages.
Have your doctor or pharmacist check to make sure you're not taking any other medications that could lower your blood pressure.
Treatment is probably not needed if your pulse is normal and you're feeling fine.
Caring for those ages 80 and over
This level of blood pressure can be very concerning in an older adult. If it's new, it can signal a problem such as dehydration, infection, or internal bleeding. Low blood pressure like this can also be due to taking too much hypertension medication, or it can be a side effect of a medication prescribed for another reason.
This range of blood pressure also puts older people at risk for dizziness and falls, since blood flow to the brain tends to drop right after an older person stands up.
Don't delay in contacting a doctor regarding low blood pressure -- especially if the older person has a dementia such as Alzheimer's disease or is otherwise not able to clearly describe how he or she is feeling. In an older person who can't communicate well, low blood pressure and decreased energy can be the only outward sign of a life-threatening medical issue.
On the other hand, some diseases (such as Parkinson's disease) do cause chronic low blood pressure in older adults.
Sources: Leslie Kernisan, MD; Robert Ostfeld, MD, M.Sc., FACC; Farrokh Sohrabi, MD; Carolyn Strimike, RN, MSN