DR. ROACH:

I am a 70-year-old man with high blood pressure. I take a calcium-channel blocker and a diuretic to control it. I am concerned about systolic readings that can vary 10-12 points when I take my blood pressure five-10 minutes apart. A recent example: readings of 132, 143, 140 and 133, taken five to six minutes apart. My diastolic readings don’t vary more than a point or two in the mid-70s. Should I be concerned about these variations in systolic pressure?

— J.S.

ANSWER:

Having a patient who gets multiple values, thinks about what it means and cares enough to ask is a real pleasure for a physician.

This degree in blood pressure variation is well within the expected norm. Your systolic pressure (the top number, and the peak blood pressure while the heart is expelling blood from the left ventricle into the aorta) is about 136, plus or minus seven points. Having multiple readings increases the precision of the measurement and allows your physician to make better decisions about the effectiveness of your treatment regimen. Your systolic number, however, is in the range of prehypertension, so your doctor will be keeping an eye on that.

During the course of the day, systolic blood pressure readings can vary as much as 30 points. Even in the few minutes you took these, I often see variation as much or more than this.

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