Blood pressure

It’s your heart and blood vessels together that controls blood pressure, as oxygen rich blood is pumped to all of your cells and organs. We measure blood pressure by its force – or how hard the heart is ‘pushing’ the blood supply around your body.

Why is blood pressure so important?

If your blood pressure is outside recommended levels, it can mean something’s not quite right. It’s important to note that things like physical activity, stress or excitement can change your blood pressure. Levels can vary during the day, too.

Within reason, blood pressure that’s too low (hypotension) isn’t a cause for concern unless it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as giddiness or fainting. But high blood pressure (hypertension) is something best avoided.

What does ‘high blood pressure’ mean?

If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), it means your blood flow is putting abnormal pressure on your arteries and circulation. This can be a major risk in developing conditions like heart disease and strokes. It can also create problems for other organs, the kidneys in particular.

Measuring blood pressure

It’s important to measure your blood pressure on a regular basis – it’s a pain-free process. Your GP or practice nurse can do this easily, usually with a wrap-around cuff that fits around your upper arm. The readings are given in millimetres of mercury – mmHG. Two measurements are taken:

  • Systolic pressure. This is the first reading taken, to find the pressure exerted when your heart beats to push blood around the body.
  • Diastolic pressure. The second reading shows the pressure while the heart is at rest – between beats.

Medical professionals will then use these readings to advise you on whether your blood pressure is within normal limits or if you require to take some action. It is best to think of your blood pressure as being one factor that should be considered along with other risks such as smoking habits, other illnesses, your height and weight. If your blood pressure is judged to be too high, diet change, taking more exercise or drugs may be needed to help lower it. Your doctor will advise you which is best for you.

For more information on blood pressure visit NHS Choices

How can we reduce high blood pressure?

There are some simple lifestyle changes that could help reduce high blood pressure. We recommend a check-up with your GP before undertaking any changes to your normal diet or exercise plan.

  • Do some regular exercise – try building up to 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
  • Control your alcohol intake – drink no more than the recommended amounts (less than 21 units per week for men, less than 14 units per week for women).
  • Eat a low-fat, balanced diet of healthy foods – include plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Cut down on salt – try to eat less than 6g (one teaspoon) a day.
  • Limit your caffeine intake – aim for fewer than five cups of tea or coffee a day.
  • Relax – try some relaxation therapies or meditation.

Raised blood pressure can be a sign of elevated stress levels. Read more about stress here.

Fast facts

  • One in three adults (16 million) in the UK has high blood pressure*.
  • Keeping your salt intake down could help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Aim for 6g or less (one teaspoon) a day.

* http://www.bpassoc.org.uk/mediacentre/Facts

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