Blood pressure is the force of the blood on the walls of your artery each time your heart pumps – think of water rushing through a water pipe. High blood pressure means that blood is moving faster or under greater pressure. This can happen when arteries are narrower than they should be. Having blood running at greater pressure can damage your arteries and increase your chances of heart disease, stroke and suffering kidney damage. High blood pressure is a sign your heart is being overworked so it is important to look after your blood pressure and to keep it at healthy levels. High blood pressure is also one of the main causes of stroke.
When you are having your blood pressure measured, there are two readings:
- Systolic: This is your blood pressure when the heart squeezes or contracts to pump blood around your body.
- Diastolic: This is your blood pressure when your heart relaxes between contractions.
When you have your blood pressure checked, you will be given the results as ‘systolic level over diastolic level’, for example ‘120 over 80’.
- You have high blood pressure when your blood pressure readings are more than 140 over 90 consistently over several readings.
- We should all aim to have a blood pressure level below 140 over 90 but if you have heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease, you should aim to be below 140 over 80. A target of below 130/80 is advised for those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes at elevated risk (e.g. High BP/smoker).
- You can help to lower blood pressure by losing some weight if you are overweight, doing more exercise, eating more fruit and vegetables and reducing salt.
Lots of people are nervous when they go to their doctor and this can mean their blood pressure results give high readings, even though they might have normal blood pressure. This is called ‘white coat syndrome’ and is one of the reasons why you should have your blood pressure checked at home or possibly even wear a 24-hour blood pressure monitor before you are diagnosed as having high blood pressure.
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Age – blood pressure increases as we get older.
- Being overweight
- Eating too much salt
- Lack of exercise/activity
- Too much alcohol
- Ethic origin – people from Afro-Caribbean or South Asian communities are a little more likely to have high blood pressure.
- High blood pressure can also be caused by other diseases such as kidney disease.