You need it to survive - but while you're unlikely to know if you've got raised blood pressure, it's 'too much of a good thing'. So how do you know if yours is just right - and why is it so important to 'know your numbers'?
Blood pressure - what is it?
Your blood pressure is the pressure inside your arteries as your blood is pumped round your system. When it's measured, you'll be given two figures, one 'over' the other. The upper one is the pressure in your circulation as your heart pumps blood out (every time your heart 'beats', it's actually pumping blood in a gush round your system), while the lower one is the pressure that remains while your heart is resting between beats. 'Ideal' blood pressure is one hundred and twenty over eighty - written as 120/80.
High blood pressure - why worry?
Our blood pressure naturally goes up and down during the day, depending on what we're doing, how much stress we're under etc. Making your heart pump faster, (for instance, such as when you're exercising) increases your blood pressure (although regular exercise brings blood pressure down by making your heart stronger). Consistently high blood pressure increases your chance of a stroke or heart attack. That's why it's so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly; to go back for regular check-ups if you're diagnosed with high blood pressure; and to take the treatment you're prescribed every single day. This will cut your risk of stroke dramatically.
What figures mean my blood pressure is high?
If you're otherwise healthy, your blood pressure is considered to be high enough to need treatment if the upper figure is above 160/100. The aim of treatment is to get the upper figure below 140/85. If you have other conditions like diabetes or kidney problems, the targets may be lower still (below 130/80).
How can I lower my blood pressure?
As we get older, our arteries (like so many other bits of our bodies!) become stiffer and less flexible. This increases the risk of high blood pressure, especially in the upper reading. Whether your blood pressure is high enough to need treatment or not, it's worth taking steps to prevent it rising too much. Simple changes can cut your risks dramatically. Since we can't do anything about one of the commonest causes of raised blood pressure (getting older - sorry, more mature!), think about:
- Shedding any excess weight (in about half of people with high blood pressure, excess weight plays a part)
- Cutting the salt in your diet
- Taking regular exercise (every little helps, but 30 minutes of the sort of exercise that leaves you mildly out of breath, 5 times a week, is ideal)
- Cutting the fat in your diet and avoiding smoking (these won't affect your blood pressure, but they will also cut your risk of stroke).
On the flip side - the dangers of low blood pressure
We've all heard of 'a rush of blood to the head'. But what if your brain is short of blood? This is what happens if your blood pressure drops - and the result is feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint, or even fainting.
As we get older, our bodies are less good at adapting to changes in gravity. Having diabetes or taking some medication can make this more pronounced. Unless there is a rare serious cause for low blood pressure (like losing blood), it rarely causes serious harm. Even so, feeling faint can be troubling. To reduce your risks:
- Sit up slowly from lying and never stand straight up
- Drink enough fluids, especially in hot weather
- Avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate you
- If you feel regularly dizzy, talk to your GP about whether medicines you're taking might be to blame.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.