Blood pressure: know your numbers
Tuesday 16th September
We all know that blood pressure is important. After all, we are constantly told that high blood pressure in particular can increase our risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. The only thing is – blood pressure can be rather confusing.
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When we have our blood pressure taken we are given one number “over” another as our result, but what do these figures actually mean?
Systolic blood pressure
Systolic blood pressure is the first number you are given in your reading. It measures the pressure on your arteries, caused by the contractions of your beating heart as it pushes blood around your body.
If your blood pressure is normal, this number should read a comfortable 120 or below, while a reading of between 120 and 139 usually indicates normal blood pressure that is higher than ideal, or even borderline high blood pressure. Clinical high blood pressure comes in at a reading of 140 or higher across regular blood pressure checks.
Diastolic blood pressure
Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, and measures the pressure in your arteries between heart beats.
A normal diastolic blood pressure usually measures at around 80 or less, while a reading between 80 and 89 is considered normal but higher than ideal. A repeated reading of 90 or higher is where cause for concern really starts, and is indicative of high blood pressure.
When you consider these two elements together, a normal blood pressure would be 120 over 80 (120/80). But what if your blood pressure reading doesn’t fall into this healthy range? What does a high, or a low blood pressure reading mean?
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension, and at its worst, is a grave cause for concern. Even more worryingly, high blood pressure doesn’t usually come with symptoms, with the occasional exception of frequent headaches. There is good news, however – the main causes of high blood pressure mean that it can be controlled. These causes include:
Eating too much salt
Eating too few fruits and vegetables
Not being active enough
Drinking too much alcohol
Ethnicity (people of African or Caribbean descent are more prone)
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can rest assured that a concerted effort to change your diet and lifestyle can have a really positive outcome.
Low blood pressure
It might sound scary, but low blood pressure – also known as hypotension – isn’t a common cause for concern. While it is categorised by fairly unpleasant symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness and feeling faint, it’s usually just a natural occurrence that often stems from our genes.
However, low blood pressure can sometimes be a result of certain health conditions (like heart disease, diabetes and anaemia), or certain medications (like beta-blockers, alpha-blockers and some antidepressants). If it drops dangerously low it could even restrict the flow of blood to your brain and vital organs, causing bigger issues in the long run.
This just goes to show how important it is to get your blood pressure checked at recommended intervals, regardless of whether it is high or low. Even if you have normal blood pressure, you should get it checked at least once every five years, then more regularly as you age. If your blood pressure is borderline high you should get it checked at least once a year, and if it is clinically high, you should abide by doctor’s orders, getting it checked as often as they recommend.
If you are concerned about your blood pressure or would just like a reading for peace of mind, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your GP.