Pulse pressure is the difference between the two blood pressure readings. A wide pulse pressure means a larger difference between these measurements and may indicate a higher risk of heart disease.

Experts define pulse pressure as the difference between systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP).

The main artery that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body is the aorta. The heart contracts and ejects blood from the left ventricle into the aorta. The maximum pressure in the aorta when this happens is known as SBP.

Conversely, when the heart relaxes before ejecting blood into the aorta, the minimum pressure is known as DBP.

SBP minus DBP equates to pulse pressure (PP). A wide PP refers to a larger difference than usual between these values and may indicate a higher risk of heart disease.

It is important to note that this article will discuss adult pulse pressure. For children, many factors, such as weight and age, will influence pulse pressure.

Read on to find out about wide pulse pressure, what it means, and what it could indicate.

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Pulse pressure (PP) refers to the difference between SBP and DBP. For example, someone with a SBP of 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a DBP of 80 mmHg would have a PP of 40 mmHg.

A wide or large PP means someone’s PP is higher than average. A 2020 review indicates that an average PP is 40 mmHg and a widened PP is 100 mmHg or over.

Conversely, experts note that a PP less than 25% of the SBP is too low or narrow.

Pulse pressure also has links to stroke volume and arterial compliance in the heart. These physiological terms describe the heart’s ability to pump blood and the arteries’ ability to extend and accommodate this.

To measure PP, a healthcare professional will first need to measure a person’s blood pressure. Typically, they will use an automatic blood pressure cuff or a device known as a sphygmomanometer.

This will provide them with a person’s SBP and DBP. An individual can then subtract their DBP from their SBP to get their PP.

Click here to learn more about how to measure the pulse.

Experts suggest that an increase in PP can occur in well-conditioned endurance athletes or individuals with more significant amounts of muscle mass.

However, with aging, there can be a decrease in the elasticity of the artery walls leading to stiffness. Doctors sometimes describe this as the hardening of the arteries. As the left ventricle contracts against hardened arteries, the SBP and DBP can increase, resulting in wide PP.

European guidelines suggest that a PP of over 60 mmHg in older adults has links to the stiffening of the arteries.

A 2018 study suggests that a PP that is either too low, which doctors call narrow PP, or too high, which doctors call wide PP, predicts a negative survival rate in the oldest adults. Similarly, a 2023 study indicates that a wide PP had links to a higher cardiovascular risk.

A wide pulse pressure may have associations with the following conditions:

A 2020 review suggests that widening PP is a typical consequence of aging. However, a person may have high blood pressure and wide PP with no warning symptoms.

Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people check their blood pressure to avoid the risk of heart disease, stroke, and brain issues.

A 2020 review suggests that a doctor may recommend blood pressure medication if someone has high blood pressure and wide PP. Treating wide PP with thiazide diuretics and long‐acting nitrate medications may be more effective than other anti-hypertension medications. However, more research is necessary.

A 2020 article notes that using medications routinely to lower blood pressure in people with wide PP could reduce DBP excessively. This can cause hypotension, potentially increasing the risk of a coronary heart attack.

Currently, doctors may not consider someone’s PP when evaluating their cardiovascular risk.

Wide pulse pressure (PP) refers to when the difference between systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure is larger than 100.

While a wide PP can occur in well-trained athletes, it is more common due to aging. Evidence notes that in older adults, a wide PP can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other conditions.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional to measure their PP and diagnose underlying conditions or potential risk factors. Doctors may prescribe medication for people with wide PP and high blood pressure to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.