I wanted to understand what is the difference between systolic and diastolic readings of blood pressure. I understand 120-80 to about 100-60 is considered normal but does the difference in the two values in the reading hold any significance?
The difference between systolic (the upper number) and diastolic (the lower number) pressures is known as the pulse pressure:
Systemic pulse pressure = Psystolic - Pdiastolic
For a typical blood pressure reading of 120/80 mmHg the pulse pressure is therefore 40 mmHg.
A low (also called narrow) pulse pressure means that not much blood is being expelled from the heart, and can be caused by a number of factors, including severe blood loss due to trauma, congestive heart failure, shock, a narrowing of the valve leading from the heart to the aorta (stenosis), and fluid accumulating around the heart (tamponade).
High (or wide) pulse pressures occur during exercise, as stroke volume increases and the overall resistance to blood flow decreases. It can also occur for many reasons, such as hardening of the arteries (which can have numerous causes), various deficiencies in the aorta (mainly) or other arteries, including leaks, fistulas, and a usually-congenital condition known as AVM, pain/anxiety, fever, anemia, pregnancy, and more. Certain medications for high blood pressure can widen pulse pressure, while others narrow it. A chronic increase in pulse pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, and can lead to the type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation or A-Fib.