What Your Pulse Pressure can Reveal About Your Health

Most of us are very familiar with the importance of good blood pressure readings, but did you know there’s another number related to your blood pressure that might be an even better indication of your overall health condition? Your pulse pressure or “PP” is a measurement that you should consider when determining your overall health condition, especially the health of your heart. Pulse pressure is the difference between your systolic blood pressure reading (the top number) and your diastolic measurement (the bottom number) during your regular blood pressure check. For instance, a person with a blood pressure reading of 120/80 would subtract 80 from 120 to arrive at a pulse pressure reading of 40. Your pulse pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and it represents the force the heart generates each time it contracts.

The Mayo Clinic states:

“For adults older than age 60, a pulse pressure greater than 60 can be a useful predictor of heart attacks or other cardiovascular disease; this is especially true for men. In some cases a low pulse pressure (less than 40) may indicate poor heart function. A higher pulse pressure (greater than 60) may reflect leaky heart valves (valve regurgitation), often due to age-related losses in aortic elasticity…The most important cause of elevated pulse pressure is stiffness of the aorta, the largest artery in the body.”

What’s the Acceptable Range for Pulse Pressure?

The generally accepted “optimal” number (in the United States) for blood pressure is 120/80. It’s debatable as to how useful it is to use one static reading for all persons regarding blood pressure health, but assuming that’s the health standard, a reading of 40 for pulse pressure would be optimal. However, that’s not the end of the story. Systolic and diastolic pressure should also be considered together with your pulse pressure value. A higher blood pressure reading may imply a higher risk than lower pairs with the same pulse pressure. For instance, a blood pressure reading of 160/120 might indicate a higher risk than 110/70, even though the pulse pressure in each pair reading is 40. Not only that, your age will play in as well, as pulse pressure is considered to be a strong indication of heart disease in older persons, but that may not be the case for other groups. The normal range for pulse pressure is between 30 to 50 mmHg.(1)

What Else Can Your Pulse Pressure Tell You?

New data from the community-based, observational Framingham cohort study reported that pulse pressure is a predictor of new-onset atrial fibrillation or (AF).(2) In addition, Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System have shown that elevated pulse pressure may increase the risk of cerebrovascular disease (CVD) in older adults with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).(3)

Pulse Pressure and Your Fettle

The bottom line is that while your pulse pressure is not a “be all end all” indicator or predictor of health, it can be a tool you can use to help you get a handle on your health condition a monitor it. Your pulse pressure can alert you to possible issues with your heart and circulation, and it can be an early warning of issues that would not otherwise be indicated by blood pressure readings alone.