Heart rate vs. blood pressure: What to know
Measuring your heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) can tell you about different aspects of your circulatory system.
Getting them checked regularly is the best way to make sure that your heart and blood vessels are in good condition. It may alert you to any early signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
What is heart rate?
Your HR is a measure of how many times your heart is beating per minute. It is measured in beats per minute (bpm).
It can be too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).
When a doctor measures your HR, they usually measure your resting heart rate (RHR). This is how many times your heart beats in one minute when you are in a state of relaxation and not doing any physical activity.
The typical RHR for most adults falls between 60–100 bpm.
Sometimes, a doctor might measure the time it takes for your heart to return to its normal resting rate after you have done some physical activity. This is an indicator of how fit you, and your cardiovascular system, are.
Another important HR measurement is your ‘Heart Rate Variability.’ When your heart is healthy, it will make tiny adjustments to the timing of each beat. If your HR shows little variation between beats, it is a sign that it is not responsive to the needs of your body and may suggest that your heart is not in good health.
What is blood pressure?
Your BP is a measure of how much pressure is exerted on the walls of your blood vessels as your heart pumps blood around your body.
Your BP can be too high (hypertension) or too low (hypotension).
Doctors measure blood pressure in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There are two measures doctors use to assess your BP.
Systolic BP (SBP) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. This is the first or top number in a reading.
Diastolic BP (DBP) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. This is the second or bottom number in a reading.
According to Harvard Medical School, your SBP and DBP are important when assessing your heart health.
You are at more risk of heart disease and stroke if your SBP, rather than DBP, is too high.
Blood pressure categories in adults
This table shows the reading categories for adults.
|Below 120 mmHg
|Below 80 mmHg
|Below 80 mmHg
|Below 90 mmHg
|Below 60 mmHg
|Hypertension: Stage 1
|Hypertension: Stage 2
|Equal to or above 140 mmHg
|Equal to or above 90 mmHg
Differences and similarities between heart rate and blood pressure
The table below shows some of the differences between HR and BP.
|Heart rate only
|Blood pressure only
|Both HR and BP
|Measured in beats per minute (bpm).
|Measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg)
|Many fitness trackers will monitor your HR, or you can time it with a watch with some practice.
|You need specialist equipment (a blood pressure monitor) to measure it at home. The American Heart Association provides a helpful guide on how to measure your BP here.
|You can monitor both your HR and BP yourself at home.
|Relates to how hard your heart is working.
|This relates to the pressure your heart and arteries are working under.
|If your HR or BP is too high or too low, it can be a sign of — or lead to — CVD or stroke.
How to take your blood pressure at home
When taking your blood pressure, you should follow these steps:
- Avoid caffeine, exercise, and smoking for at least 30 minutes before taking a measurement.
- Ensure your bladder is empty.
- Relax and sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back supported for around 5 minutes.
- You should not speak with anyone or have anyone speak with you during the rest period or while you are taking a reading.
- Remove all clothing from the area you are going to place the cuff.
Does high blood pressure cause a higher heart rate?
According to a 2020 review of studies, your risk of hypertension significantly increases as your RHR gets faster.
If you have hypertension, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. This may increase the number of times your heart beats per minute.
If you have a chronically elevated RHR, this may be a sign that you have hypertension. This is especially true if your RHR is consistently above 80 bpm. Many other causes of high RHR are unrelated to blood pressure, so a doctor or healthcare professional should evaluate this further and eliminate elevations due to arrhythmia, dehydration, illness, pain, stress or anxiety, or thyroid disease.
Are high blood pressure and low heart rate concerning?
Though it is unusual to have hypertension and a low HR, it can happen, and a doctor should check it. The most likely reasons that this might happen are:
Some medications that doctors prescribe for hypertension or anxiety can also lower your HR.
Examples of medications that lower HR are beta blockers, non-dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers, and ivabradine.
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Changes in your heart
If your heart has to work hard all the time to pump blood around your body, its walls become thicker.
If they get too thick, they can interfere with the nerve signaling in your heart that controls how often it beats. This may make your heartbeat irregular or slow your HR down.
Medications and hypertension management
If you are unable to make lifestyle changes to improve your BP and HR, or if they will not have enough of an effect on their own, then there are many medications available to help manage your blood pressure.
Some of these include:
- For low blood pressure:
- For high blood pressure:
When to speak with a doctor about blood pressure
Because there are often no noticeable symptoms of hypertension as it gets worse, it is always a good idea to have a healthcare professional check your BP and HR regularly.
You should talk with a doctor if one of these statements applies to you:
- Your BP is higher than 180/120 mmHg
- Your BP is consistently higher than 130/80 mmHg
- Your BP is consistently lower than 90/60 mmHg
- Your HR is consistently higher than 100 bpm
- Your HR is consistently lower than 60 bpm
Because BP and HR are two different measurements of the same system, it is not surprising that they are related.
Normally, the higher your BP is, the higher your HR will be.
Regularly checking them will reduce your risk of many health conditions, including heart failure and stroke.
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- LeWine H. (2021). Which blood pressure number is important? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/which-blood-pressure-number-is-important
- Low blood pressure. (2022). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/low-blood-pressure
- Meyer M, et al. (2018). Pharmacological Heart Rate Lowering in Patients with a Preserved Ejection Fraction – Review of a Failing Concept. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29098508/
- Monitoring blood pressure at home can be tricky. Here’s how to do it right. (2022). https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/05/23/monitoring-blood-pressure-at-home-can-be-tricky-heres-how-to-do-it-right.
- Shen L, et al. (2020). Dose-response association of resting heart rate and hypertension in adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7478507/a
- Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate Physical Activity. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm