Blood pressure can be a key factor in the overall health of your heart, high blood pressure can increase the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke.
It is estimated that 7 million people in the UK have undiagnosed high blood pressure, as the condition shows no symptoms, many people are unaware they are at risk.
It is important to know your blood pressure and get it checked regularly, especially if you are over 40 as the body begins to age. The recommendation for checks is every five years, and can easily be tested at your GP surgery, some pharmacies and even at your workplace if your employer offers it.
What Is Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the measurement of pressure that blood exerts on the walls of arteries (blood vessels carrying blood away from the heart to the rest of the body), as it is pumped around the body. There should be a certain amount of pressure in order to get the blood to everywhere it needs to be in the body.
The pressure fluctuates depending on what stage the heart is at in its ‘pump cycle’, with the pressure being higher when the heart is contracting and expelling blood, and lower when the heart is refilling in preparation for its next pump. This is the reason why there are two numbers in the blood pressure reading.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury, with the systolic reading on top and diastolic reading on the bottom e.g. 120/80mmHg.
The systolic blood pressure number is the ‘top’ reading and should be 120 or below. This is the measurement of when the heart is pumping blood out through the arteries to the body and is when there is the most strain on arterial walls.
The diastolic blood pressure number is the ‘bottom’ reading and should be 80 or below. This is the measurement of pressure of arterial walls when the heart is resting between beats and refilling with blood.
Normal Blood Pressure
The optimal blood pressure should be 120/80 and is the best reading for good health. Measurements between 90/60 and 120/80 are also ideal for keeping the cardiovascular system healthy.
If the reading is consistently 140/90 over several weeks, this is considered high blood pressure, or hypertension, and puts a person at a much higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. The higher pressure puts extra strain on both the heart and blood vessels and can also cause kidney disease and may contribute to the development of dementia.
While low blood pressure, 90/60 or below, is not usually a cause for concern, it may lead to a person feeling faint or dizzy. If there is a sudden drop in blood pressure, it may be an indicator of another condition and should be discussed with a health professional.
Sometimes, there is no clear cause of high blood pressure, but there are certain lifestyle and heritage factors that raise the reading.
Factors that can increase the risk of high blood pressure:
- Not enough exercise
- High salt intake
- Not enough fruit and vegetables in diet
- Over the age of 65
- Caffeine intake
- Alcohol and nicotine intake
- African-Caribbean or South Asian heritage
- Family history
Reducing Blood Pressure
Most factors that contribute to high blood pressure are lifestyle based and making minor changes may help to bring it down. Eating less salt and more fruit and vegetables are the biggest dietary changes that can be made and have a positive impact, also consider reducing alcohol and caffeine intake and cutting down, or quitting, smoking.
Undertaking moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week can help to keep the heart healthy, and in turn lower blood pressure. This can be something simple like walking to work, or read our beginner’s guides to cycling and running.
Medication for High Blood Pressure
Sometimes, lifestyle changes are not enough to reduce blood pressure down to a reasonable level and a doctor may prescribe medication to lower it further.
ACE inhibitors and Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers relax the blood vessels to create minimise pressure on their walls, these are usually given to people under the age of 55 and may cause headaches, dizziness, cry cough and cold or flu-like symptoms.
Calcium channel blockers widen the blood vessels to allow blood to flow more freely, these are usually given to people over the age of 55 and to people of African or Caribbean heritage. The side effects may include headaches, swollen ankles and constipation, these side effects are worsened if grapefruit juice is drunk.
Diuretics flush out excess salt and water from the body, as salt can be a cause of high blood pressure, flushing the excess out may help to lower the reading.
Beta-blockers are not usually used, as other treatments have proved themselves to be more effective, but may be prescribe if nothing else works. They work by making the heart beat slower and with less force.
Get in touch with your GP or health professional to get your blood pressure checked, as there are no signs or symptoms you may not experience any indication of your increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
HMT operates two not-for-profit hospitals, one in Grimsby and one in Swansea.
St Hughs Hospital in Grimsby – 01472 251 100
Sancta Maria Hospital in Swansea – 01792 479 040