We all have our blood pressure checked at some stage in our lives, but do you know what is actually being measured. Your blood pressure is the strength with which your blood pushes on the sides of your arteries (main blood vessels) as it’s pumped around your body. If the pressure is too high or too low it could cause problems that require further investigation. It is recommended that all adults over the age of 40 have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years so that any emerging problems can be picked up and managed as early as possible. The NHS offers free health checks to adults in England aged 40-74. You would normally be invited to an appointment at your GP surgery or local clinic but you can also request a health check yourself.
What happens when your blood pressure is measured
Your health professional will use a device called a sphygmomanometer which has a cuff that is strapped to the upper arm. The cuff is pumped up with air to restrict blood flow. This feels like a firm squeeze and only lasts a few seconds. The air is then slowly let out and a stethoscope is used to listen to your pulse. Your blood pressure is recorded at two points as the blood starts to return to your arm.
What do the numbers mean
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury, or mmHg. Two measurements are taken. When your heart pushes blood out which is known as systolic pressure, and the pressure when your heart rests between beats, which is called diastolic pressure. Your blood pressure is read as two numbers, one after the other. For example if your systolic pressure is 120mmHg and your diastolic pressure is 80mmHg, it is said to be 120 over 80. Anything between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg is regarded as being in the normal range.
Risks of high or low blood pressure
Anything above 140/90 is considered to be high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. You may not notice any symptoms but for some people it could put them at an increased risk of developing serious issues such as heart attacks and strokes. This is why it’s important to be checked when you’re invited by your GP if over the age of 40. At the other end of the scale is low blood pressure. Also known as hypotension. It may not cause problems for many people but can result in dizziness, fainting, and in more serious cases, shock. Anything under 90/60mmHg can be regarded as low which can be caused by dehydration (particularly in the elderly), certain types of medication, blood loss, allergic reactions and a lack of nutrients which prevents your body from producing enough red blood cells.
How to keep a healthy heart
Normal blood pressure can vary between individuals. If your health professional thinks you are at risk of developing issues due to blood pressure being too high or too low, they may recommend changes to your lifestyle. This may include;
- Stopping smoking
- Cutting back on alcohol
- Taking regular exercise
- Eating a balanced diet including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Eating less salt
- Losing weight
Your doctor will also ask questions about your background to find out if you are at a greater risk of heart disease or other illnesses. If your blood pressure is particularly high, or you are considered to be at a greater risk then they may also recommend medication to lower your blood pressure.
Where you can get tested
As well as your GP practice, you can also have your blood pressure checked at some local pharmacies. Some workplaces may also offer a blood pressure check. You can also buy monitors to use at home but make sure they are approved by the British Hypertension Society. They provide details of recommended monitors for home use. Bear in mind that your blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day so readings will vary and you will need to take measurements at different times. Some people find that visiting their GP can cause their blood pressure to rise so taking measurements at home as well can provide a good back-up. For further information about recommended monitors visit https://bihsoc.org/bp-monitors/for-home-use/
If you would like to visit a health professional outside of normal working hours, please visit East Berkshire Primary Care Out Of Hours at https://ebpcooh.org.uk/