How to Calculate Pulse Pressure

Two Parts:Taking Your Blood PressureInterpreting Your Results

A pulse pressure is the difference between your systolic and diastolic pressures, most commonly seen as the two numbers that define your blood pressure (i.e. 120/80, respectively). The top number (the higher of the two values) is your systolic pressure and represents the pressure in your arteries when your heart delivers blood during a contraction (a heartbeat). The bottom number (the lower of the two values) is your diastolic pressure, and represents the pressure in your arteries between contractions (between heartbeats). This measurement can help to indicate whether you are at risk for cardiovascular problems and coronary events, such as stroke.[1] The pulse pressure is determined from the two values (systolic and diastolic values) measured when your blood pressure is taken. That is to say, the difference between the top number and the bottom number of your blood pressure.

Part 1
Taking Your Blood Pressure

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    Take your blood pressure. Taking a traditional blood pressure measurement with a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, and analog sphygmomanometer can take some practice and requires instruction and experience. Some people visit automated machines at their local pharmacy in order to get their blood pressure taken.
    • When purchasing an at-home blood pressure monitor, make sure that the cuff (what goes around your arm) fits you appropriately, that you can read the monitor easily, and that it is affordable. Many insurance plans will help pay for blood pressure monitoring machines. Most of these machines are automated. You simply put on the cuff, hit start and wait for your results.[2]
    • Avoid sugars, caffeine, and excessive stress before taking your blood pressure. These three triggers will elevate your blood pressure and give you a false reading.
    • If you insist on taking your own blood pressure at home, do so three times in order to make sure that you are doing it right. Make sure that you are comfortably seated, relaxed, and have your arm at or near your heart level.[3]
    • It is important to note that most machines need to be calibrated. In order to know if a device is accurate, it should be checked at the doctor's office once per year and compared to their blood pressure monitor for accuracy.
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    Take note of the diastolic number and the systolic number. Say 110/68 is your blood pressure reading. It is a good idea to record these numbers somewhere so you can keep track of your blood pressure fluctuations.
    • Since your blood pressure can fluctuate throughout the day, you'll want to take multiple readings at different times throughout the day (over the course of two to three weeks for the most accuracy) and average these readings.
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    Subtract your systolic number from your diastolic number to get your pulse pressure. In this example, you’d subtract 68 from 110. Your pulse pressure would be 42.[4]

Part 2
Interpreting Your Results

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    Determine if your pulse pressure is at a safe range. While people of different ages and sexes will have slightly different pulse pressures, the medical world has settled on a base scale.
    • 40 mmHg- A pulse pressure of 40 is considered normal, but 40 to 60 is a relatively healthy range.[5]
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    Call a doctor if your pulse pressure is over 60 mmHg. A pulse pressure above 60 is considered to be a risk factor for cardiovascular events, such as stroke, and general cardiovascular issues like hypertension. A higher pulse pressure can mean your heart valves are not functioning properly to prevent backflow of blood and your heart may not be effectively pumping blood forward (valve regurgitation).[6]
    • Isolated systolic hypertension arises when your systolic blood pressure rises above 140 and your diastolic stays relatively the same (below 90 mmHg). There are many medications that your doctor can prescribe to help with this condition.[7]
    • Oftentimes emotional and physical stress can cause significant increases in pulse pressure as well. Stress can cause significant increases in pulse pressure. [8]
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    Contact your physician if your pulse pressure is lower than 40 mmHg. A pulse pressure below 40 may indicate poor functioning of your heart. Several conditions can cause this problem.
    • Aortic regurgitation occurs when there is an issue with the aortic valve, which results from the backflow of blood into the left ventricle. This will decrease your diastolic pressure. If you have this condition, surgery will be necessary.[9]
    • Heart failure, renal failure, diabetes mellitus and low levels of plasma sodium can all cause low blood pressure.[10] Consult your physician for a specific diagnosis.


  • Pulse pressure is simply an indicator of any number of possible problems with your heart and circulatory system. It does not directly diagnose any specific disease, but it has been shown in many studies to be a good indicator that risk factors are present and further cardiac workup should be done.[11]

Article Info

Categories: Cardiovascular Health and Blood Pressure