What is pulse pressure? How important is pulse pressure to overall health?

Answer From Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

Pulse pressure is determined from the two numbers of a blood pressure reading. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

  • The top number is called systolic pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.
  • The bottom number is called diastolic pressure. This is pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

The top number minus the bottom number is the pulse pressure.

So if the resting blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg, the pulse pressure is 40. This is considered a healthy pulse pressure. Generally, a pulse pressure greater than 40 mm Hg is unhealthy.

Checking your pulse pressure may help your care team predict your risk of heart and blood vessel events, such as heart attacks and strokes. A pulse pressure greater than 60 is a risk factor for heart disease, especially for older adults.

Stiffness of the body's largest arteries is the leading cause of increased pulse pressure in older adults. High blood pressure and a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls can make the arteries stiff. The greater the pulse pressure, the stiffer and more damaged the blood vessels are thought to be.

Blood pressure medicines may not lower pulse pressure. More research is needed to understand how medicines affect pulse pressure in different people. Studies also need to be done to learn if lowering pulse pressure can protect against heart attacks and strokes or reverse damage from such events.

To keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, try these tips:

  • Do not smoke or vape.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage stress.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily.
  • Control blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.


Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

Aug. 18, 2023