Have you ever been told that you have high blood pressure? What is it, and why it is important? Have you ever wondered what those two numbers mean? What is normal and what can you do to manage it?
Much like water being pumped through pipes, the blood pumping from your heart and circulating through your body is under pressure. The degree of force from the blood pushing against the sides of your arteries (vessels) is your blood pressure.
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first (upper) number is your systolic pressure which is the maximum pressure on your arteries when the heart is beating and or contracting. The second (lower) number is the diastolic pressure which is the pressure on your arteries between beats or when the heart is relaxed. Human blood pressure is highly variable and will rise and fall throughout the day. The British Heart Foundation recommends that blood pressure should be under 140/90 at rest and in high risk clients especially those with established cardiovascular disease and diabetes a blood pressure less than 130/80 is desirable. The lower your blood pressure is, the better it is for your health. The higher your blood pressure is, the greater the strain on your arteries and your heart, which increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) occurs when the force exerted against the artery walls is abnormally high. To use the water and pipe analogy again, high water pressure damages pipes with the high force causing erosion over time. In the same way, hypertension can cause damage to the arteries, causing them to clog or weaken and over time. This increased pressure can lead to a wide range of problems not only to your arteries, but your heart, brain and kidneys. Stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, aneurysms and an enlarged heart are just some examples of the many health complications that can develop when high blood pressure is not effectively controlled. People with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease and have a stroke and twice as likely to die from these as people with a normal blood pressure*. Undetected and untreated hypertension remains common and it can be especially dangerous as it rarely has any symptoms which is why it is often referred to as ‘the silent killer’. The British Heart foundation estimates that as many as 5 million people in the UK are walking around, undiagnosed, with high blood pressure.
Some people are at higher risk from hypertension, however most people develop it due their diet, lifestyle or medical conditions. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, being overweight, not doing enough exercise and eating too much salt are contributing factors.
The good news is that hypertension can be treated and often prevented. These lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure and help postpone or prevent you having it in the future:
- Eating less salt and more fruit and vegetables
- Stopping smoking
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Being more active
- Losing weight if you are overweight
Be aware of the importance of healthy blood pressure. Blood Pressure UK’s campaign, Know Your Numbers! started on 9th September and encourages people to have their blood pressure checked.
*The Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health 2001