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Blood Pressure

This information provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. The information is NOT a substitute for you visiting your doctor. However, as Medical Science is constantly changing and human error is always possible, the authors, editors, and publisher of this information do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of this information nor are they responsible for omissions or errors as a result of using this information.

Blood Pressure Basics

High Blood Pressure has become one of the National Health's top priorities, yet many people still don't fully understand what it means.

Over a third of people with high blood pressure don't know it, so are not being treated for this potentially life-threatening disease. That's because although an estimated 16 million people in the UK suffer from high blood pressure, it rarely presents any symptoms. In fact, the only way to discover you have it is for your Doctor or Pharmacist to measure your blood pressure.

What does blood pressure mean?
Blood pressure is the pressure your heart produces when it pumps blood around the network of tubes (arteries) that carry blood all around your body.

How is blood pressure measured?
When your Doctor or Pharmacist measures your blood pressure, they are actually measuring two different pressures - systolic and diastolic. The systolic is the higher of the two readings - it's the pressure in your arteries when your heart is beating and forcing blood through the arteries. The smaller number, the diastolic, is the pressure between heartbeats. So, for example, your blood pressure reading could be 120/70 (120 is the systolic and 70 is the diastolic). Your blood pressure varies depending on the time of the day or stress you are under, so at least three readings will be taken before any diagnosis of high blood pressure is made.

What should my blood pressure be?
A normal blood pressure measurement is no more than 140/85; a reading of 160/90 or above requires treatment.

What causes high blood pressure?
Around 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with high blood pressure have 'essential hypertension', which means the body's small blood vessels have narrowed with no definite cause. For a few people, kidney or hormone pronblems may be the cause of their high blood pressure.

When should I get it checked?
Everyoneshould know what their blood pressure is. Think of it as part of your body's MOT and a number you know, in the same way that you know how much you weigh or how tall you are. All adults should be checked at least once every five years, but preferably more often. This is especially true as you get older, as blood pressure goes up with age.

Who gets high blood pressure?
Some people are more susceptible to suffering from high blood pressure, including those who:
  • are very overweight
  • drink large amounts of alcohol
  • are under a lot of stress
  • have a family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack
  • are of African-Caribbean or South Indian origin
  • have diabetes
  • eat too much salt
  • don't eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • don't exercise
  • are older (more than 50 percent of people aged over 65 have high blood pressure)
Why is high blood pressure a problem?
The higher your blood pressure, the bigger the risk of damage to the delicate lining of your blood vessels, which will in turn speed up the age-related furring of the arteries. High blood pressure us a risk factor for developing heart disease (particularly hardening and narrowing of the arteries), stroke, damage to eyesight, and kidney damage, and also has possible links to dementia.

Does cholesterol affect blood pressure?
There are two different types of cholesterol: LDL (Low density lipoprotein) and HDL (High density lipoprotein). 'Bad' LDL settles on the artery walls and can narrow and block them, causing a rise in blood pressure, while 'good' HDL removes the harmful LDL from the arteries. Saturated fat found in meats and dairy products, cakes, biscuit and crisps increase the amount of 'bad' LDL in your blood, while wholegrain breads, cereals, brown rice and wholegrain pasta increases the amount of 'good' HDL in your blood.

Does smoking affect blood pressure?
Smoking causes your arteries to narrow - just as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure do - so you're significantly increasing your risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack if you have high blood pressure and smoke.

Will my doctor prescribe medication?
If you have mild high blood pressure - between 140/90 and 160/100 - but are otherwise healthy?, your doctor may advise you to make lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing your salt intake, losing weight) to see if that helps. Your doctor may prescribe medication if your blood pressure doesn't fall. There are three main types of medication used to treat high blood pressure: diuretics (which reduces the volume of blood), beta blockers (which causes the heart to beat more slowly) and calcium channel blockers (which help relax the blood vessels).

How can I lower my blood pressure?
The most important steps are dietary - eat more fresh fruit and vegetables; cut down on fatty meals, full-fat dairy products and fried foods; eat more oily fish; drink less caffeine (coffee, tea and cola); cut down on the amount of salt you eat and drink alcohol in moderation. You can also help yourself by reaching your ideal weight and taking regular exercise.

Can low blood pressure be a problem?
Low blood pressure - around 90/160 - is rarely a problem and may protect you from many of the medical problems associated with high blood pressure, however, someone with low blood pressure can be more susceptible to dizziness or fainting spells. If this occurs, see your doctor, who will check that there is no underlying problem - such as diabetes or adrenal failure - causing the low blood pressure.
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Last modified October 2015