According to a recent survey by the Blood Pressure Association, nearly two-thirds of us are feeling more stressed and
more prone to illness that they did 3 years ago.
Apparently about half the over-65s and 1 in 4 of middle-aged people have high blood pressure and 1 in 20 of the 25 to 34s. It’s silent, doesn’t really cause symptoms and left untreated it can be deadly.
We’ve all heard of blood pressure and most of us know that if it’s too high that’s not good, but what is blood pressure? What is normal blood pressure? What makes it high? And what will it do to you?
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood in your arteries – the vessels that carry blood away from the heart – after each beat. It’s measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) using a sphygmanometer (say ‘sfig-mano-meter’) and a blood pressure cuff.
It’s written as 2 figures, for example 120/70 (a normal blood pressure reading). You may hear the doctor or nurse say it as ‘120 over 70’.
These figures show 2 things: the higher figure (systolic pressure) is the pressure in the vessels when the heart contracts and the lower figure (diastolic pressure) is the pressure when the heart relaxes. Both are equally important.
We all need blood pressure to vary during the day – low when we’re sleeping or relaxing, to go up a little so we don’t faint when we get out of bed, and to go up further when there’s some emergency as this pumps blood harder and faster up to the brain and into the muscles.
When your doctor tells you your blood pressure reading you can click here to check it against the blood pressure chart.
What does high blood pressure do?
But if it’s too high for too long, the pressure damages the arteries, heart, brain and other organs like the kidneys. This can cause a stroke (where a blood vessel bursts or clots in the brain) and has been closely linked to some forms of dementia and kidney disease. It’s one of the risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks, and can damage to the vessels in the legs leading to ulcers.
What is a normal blood pressure?
A normal blood pressure reading is about 120/70. For most otherwise healthy people, the upper limit of normal is 140/90 but for people with diabetes and some other conditions it should be below 130/80. The blood pressure chart will tell you more.
Symptoms of high blood pressure.
There aren’t many symptoms associated with high blood pressure that would take you to the doctor for a check.
A diagnosis of high blood pressure isn’t made on a one-off reading, but several measurements over a period of weeks. The length of time between each reading will depend on the initial reading and your general health.
There are a number of factors that can make it go up and stay up. These include heredity, too much salt in the diet, being overweight and excessive alcohol intake. So small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in bringing high blood pressure down. And along with high blood pressure medication, this is how it’s safely controlled.
How to lower blood pressure naturally.
1. Lose weight if you are overweight. Blood pressure can fall by up to 2.5/1.5 mmHg for each kilogram you lose.
2. Regular physical activity. Aim to do some physical activity on five or more days of the week, for at least 30 minutes. This could include, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc. This can lower blood pressure by 2-10 mmHg.
3. Eat a healthy diet which means five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day. Keep to low fat foods and eat less fatty meat, butter and cheese etc. Include 2-3 portions of oily fish a week – such as herring, mackerel, sardines, kippers and pilchards.
4. Have a low salt intake. Government guidelines recommend that we shouldn’t have more than 5-6 grams of salt per day. Salt is a cheap flavourer and preservative in processed foods and we often add it at the table. Instead use herbs and spices to flavour food rather than salt and don’t add salt in cooking. And get into the habit of checking the food labels at the supermarket and go for the ‘no added salt’ options.
5. Restrict your number of tea, coffee and cola drinks. Caffeine is thought to have a modest effect on blood pressure, so have fewer than 5 cups per day.
6. Drink alcohol in moderation – 1-2 units per day may help to protect you from heart disease. However, too much alcohol can be harmful.
7. If you smoke, then stop. It can be tough for long-term smokers and while smoking may not directly affect blood pressure but it adds to your health risk if you already have high blood pressure.