Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: What’s the Difference?

When you hear about cardiac health, heart rate and blood pressure come up a lot. You may know your numbers and whether or not they’re in a healthy range, but do you really know why they’re important?

Both heart rate and blood pressure indicate how well your heart is working and can signal potential cardiac problems.

Read on to find out the difference between these two numbers, how they’re connected, and how to check them.

Check your heart with the help of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. 

Blood Pressure vs. Heart Rate

Blood pressure

Blood pressure is a two-part measurement, expressed in a fraction, like 120/80 mm Hg.

The first number is the systolic pressure, which measures pressure against your artery walls when your heart contracts and pumps blood out. The second number, called the diastolic pressure, measures the blood’s pressure against the artery wall as your heart rests between pumps.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, means your heart is working too hard which can weaken your heart and damage your blood vessels. If your blood vessels can’t move blood through your body effectively, your heart and other important organs such as the eyes, brain, and kidneys may not get the oxygen and nutrients they need. High blood pressure raises your risk of heart, disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.

Hypotension, or low blood pressure, means your heart pumps more slowly than normal. That’s not always a problem — athletes sometimes have low blood pressure. However, hypotension can cause symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and blurry vision.

Heart rate

A high heart rate or pulse, on the other hand, can indicate stress, excess weight, medicine usage, a poor fitness level, or body position. Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute, and it can change gradually as you age. The difference between pulse and blood pressure is both in what they measure and what they affect.

How Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Are Related

Interestingly, your heart rate and blood pressure won’t always rise and fall in sync. Even if they both rise, it doesn’t mean they’ll rise at the same rate. When exercising, your heart rate will increase, but your blood pressure may stay the same or increase to a lesser extent. That’s because the blood vessels increase in size to allow for faster and easier flow. The blood flow may not impact the blood pressure reading to the same degree as it does your heart rate.

Checking Your Blood Pressure vs. Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate indicates how hard your heart is working in its normal state. When you exert yourself, your heart rate increases. You can easily check your heart rate by finding your pulse in your neck or wrist and counting the number of heartbeats per one minute.

Your blood pressure is more complicated to check, as you’ll need a blood pressure cuff. Some drug stores and supermarkets have machines you can use to check your blood pressure or you can buy one. Otherwise, you can get it checked at your doctor’s office.

It’s common to have some variation in your individual blood pressure readings. If a reading is borderline high, your doctor may have you repeat it on another day or watch it the next time you go to the doctor’s office. Your pulse can change as well, depending on your exertion and stress levels.

When you’re looking at your overall health, it’s important to know the difference between your pulse and blood pressure numbers and what they signify. If you think your numbers are abnormal, talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, find one at UPMC.