Do you know your pressure point?
This week marks Blood Pressure Awareness week. High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – is the main risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease and vascular dementia. Approximately 16 million people in the UK today have high blood pressure but – as the condition is often symptomless – 8 million of these are not being treated for it. Read on to discover if you could be one of these people, and ways in which you can bring your blood pressure down
What factors increase my risk of high blood pressure?
- Age – The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Through early middle age, or about age 45, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
- Race – High blood pressure is particularly common among black people, often developing at an earlier age than it does in white people. Serious complications, such as stroke, heart attack and kidney failure, also are more common in black people.
- Family history – High blood pressure tends to run in families.
- Being overweight or obese – The more you weigh the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
- Not being physically active – People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
- Using tobacco – Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure. Second-hand smoke also can increase your blood pressure.
- Too much salt (sodium) – Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Too little potassium – Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don’t get enough potassium in your diet or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
- Too little vitamin D – It’s uncertain if having too little vitamin D in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects your blood pressure.
- Drinking too much alcohol – Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women may affect your blood pressure. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
- Stress – High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. If you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only increase problems with high blood pressure.
- Certain chronic conditions – Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease and sleep apnoea.
- Sometimes pregnancy contributes to high blood pressure as well.
What constitutes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a level consistently at or above 140mmHg and/or 90mmHg.
What do these readings mean?
Your blood pressure is given to you as a fraction. The top number is your systolic blood pressure. The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure. For instance, a systolic pressure of 130 and a diastolic pressure of 75 is written as 130/75 and read as 130 over 75. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, shown as mm Hg.
How can I get mine checked out?
Get yours checked during Blood Pressure Awareness week. From the 15-21 September Blood Pressure UK will have over 1,000 ‘Pressure Stations’ across the UK offering free blood pressure checks. Click on this link to find your nearest station:
Otherwise, some pharmacies offer blood pressure monitoring, as do all medical practices within the UK
I’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, what can I do?
Whether your blood pressure is significantly above the normal level or in the prehypertension range, a higher-than-normal reading doesn’t need to get you down.
In fact, being diagnosed presents an excellent opportunity to change your life for the better. Start by following these 5 simple steps.
1) Speak to your doctor about medication
Although it’s always best to lower your blood pressure through a healthier diet and lifestyle, medication can be hugely helpful. A wide variety of medications are available – ask your doctor about the best drugs for treating high blood pressure to learn how they could help you improve your health.
2) Focus on changing one bad habit at a time
High blood pressure is caused by a number of factors, ranging from your age, weight and ethnicity to your diet and activity level. While certain factors – your ethnicity or age, for example – can’t be changed, you can easily take control of others.
It’s very difficult to transform your life and end several bad habits overnight. Instead of quitting smoking, eating better and exercising more right away, focus on changing one bad habit at a time.
For example, you might decide to start with exercise. Commit to walking around the neighbourhood or through your local park for an hour every morning and stick with it until it’s a habit. Once it’s a habit, move on to fixing your next bad habit.
By conquering your bad habits one at a time, you’ll never feel overwhelmed. Stick to your plan and try to eliminate an unhealthy habit – whether it’s a high-sodium diet, cigarette smoking or lack of exercise – every two months.
3) Commit to becoming a more active person
Your activity level is one of the biggest factors determining your blood pressure. If you are currently inactive and rarely exercise, an hour a day of moderate-intensity exercise is all it takes to lower your blood pressure by a significant amount.
Use the one-at-a-time strategy above to commit to becoming a more active, healthy person. Start by setting a goal of walking for an hour every morning. Once you can walk for an hour easily, start jogging to further increase your hearth health.
If your blood pressure is very high, you’ll need to speak to your doctor before you start an exercise routine. Taking the first step to becoming a more active person is far from easy, but the health and well-being rewards are certainly worth it.
4) Learn to enjoy the taste of natural foods
One of the biggest causes of high blood pressure is sodium consumption. Diets that are high in sodium – particularly if you eat lots of fast food and processed snacks – can contribute to prehypertension and high blood pressure.
Many people who have become accustomed to a diet that’s high in sodium, find other food bland and tasteless. By committing to a low-sodium, diet, however, you’ll soon start to discover new tastes in healthy foods that you never previously noticed.
These subtleties are part of the flavour of natural foods, and they’re something that many people who previously ate processed, high-sodium foods missed out on. Even if natural foods are tasteless at first, stick with your diet; you’ll soon start to love it!
5) Work together with your friends or family
Finding the willpower to change your habits and lower your blood pressure can be very difficult. Find a friend, family member or colleague who faces the same health issues as you and work together to improve both of your lives. Having an exercise partner makes walking, jogging or weight training much more of an enjoyable activity. Working with someone else also makes it easier to stick with a new diet; after all, no one wants to let their dieting partner down.