Blood pressure (BP) is often one of those things we don’t fully understand unless or until we have a problem with it. In this post I’ll cover what you need to know about blood pressure, from what it is and how it’s measured, to the potential problems with high and low BP.
What Is Blood Pressure?
It may seem obvious, but understanding what blood pressure is and what the readings mean aren’t always things people know. Simply put, BP is the strength that the heart is pumping the blood around your body. The blood then gives your body the oxygen and energy it needs for survival.
Pressure that’s too high or too low could be problematic, so it’s recommend to keep a track of you BP.
How Blood Pressure Is Measured
Blood pressure can be taken by a medical professional or by yourself at home and it’s recorded in mmHg – millimetres or mercury. The reading comes out as two numbers. For instance, 110/90mmHg, or 110 over 90.
You can find out what your numbers mean most easily by referring to a BP chart which shows the recommended low, normal / ideal and high levels.
What Do Your BP Numbers Actually Mean?
These two numbers represent two different aspects of your blood pressure.
The top / first number is the systolic pressure. When your heart beats, this is the highest level your BP reaches.
The bottom / second number is the diastolic BP. This is the lowest level your BP reaches when your heart relaxes between beating.
What Are The Ideal & Danger Zones?
Generally speaking, these are what the UK NHS guidelines suggest for BP:
Normal / Ideal BP is between 90/60 and 120/80 mmHG
High BP is 140/90 mmHg and above
Low BP is 90/60 mmHg or less
You can also consult this rather neat chart to easily see where your systolic & diastolic ratings fall.
High Blood Pressure
High BP is referred to as hypertension.
High blood pressure can put a strain on your heart, blood vessels and other vital body organs. Various conditions can potentially arise if it is consistently high, including storke, heart attack, heart disease, aortic aneurysms, heart failure, peripheral arterial disease and kidney disease.
Symptoms & Risk Factors
Symptoms can include the likes of : Vision problems (blurred or double vision), chest pain, fatigue, frequent nosebleeds, breathing difficulties / shortness of breath, severe headaches, irregular heartbeat, a pounding you can feel in your chest/ears/neck.
There are a few things thought to increase the risk of high BP, including :
- If you’re a smoker
- Don’t do very much exercise
- Have a diet high in salt and low in veg/fruit
- Are overweight/obese
- Are over 65 years old
- Have problematic sleep
- Have relates with high BP
Reducing High Blood Pressure
The first port of call is usually to look at lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure. For instance :
- Increasing exercise
- Cutting down on alcohol if you drink in excess
- Stopping smoking
- Getting better sleep & reducing caffeine intake
- Reducing salt intake and improving diet to include more fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Medications, such as diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers may be advised for those at high risk of complications from high blood pressure.
Your GP is the best person to advise you on what’s best and whether medication may be recommended for lowering your blood pressure in addition to lifestyle and dietary changes.
Low Blood Pressure
Low BP is referred to as hypotension, and it’s not given as much airtime as high BP.
It’s often thought, when it comes to blood pressure, that the lower the better. However, very low blood pressure can be warning sign of something not quite right and constantly low BP can result in worrisome symptoms.
Symptoms of low BP
- A feeling of weakness and/or confusion
- Vision being blurred
- Feeling dizzy or light headed
- Feeling nauseous
When you feel these symptoms as you stand up or change the position you’re in it’s often referred to as ‘postural hypotension’ (because the change in posture affects your BP).
Managing low BP
Your GP or specialist will be best placed to advise you on what changes would be best to increase or manage low blood pressure. However, medication should be reviewed to see whether this is a cause, and support wear (such as stockings) may be recommended to improve your circulation. When in hospital, I’ve also been told to ‘drink more water!’ as staying hydrated is important. Try to raise yourself from seating or standing slowly too to avoid dizziness.
Any time I’ve been in to hospital for surgery or to A&E, my blood pressure has been repeatedly taken. It can tell the nurses that something isn’t quite right, there and then. Blood pressure readings every few years or when medication is reviewed can also give a quick peak at what might be going on with your health in general. If you have health conditions, have been diagnosed with high, low or ‘risky’ (borderline high/low) BP, then keeping a regular check is often advised. This can be done at your GP surgery, as well as part of a general NHS health check.
For regular tracking of your blood pressure, which will give a far better view of what’s going on with your health and your heart, it can be a good idea to be testing it yourself from the comfort of your own home. Tech advances have greatly improved the speed, accuracy and convenience of checking BP to the point where one small device can automatically inflate your arm cuff and give you a reading with the touch of one button.
It needn’t cost the earth either, and this way you can track your BP whenever you want, wherever you want. Here’s a rundown of 5 of the best blood pressure monitors.