What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is not a disease like tuberculosis or bowel cancer. Either you have tuberculosis or you don’t have tuberculosis, either you have bowel cancer or you don’t have bowel cancer, these are clearly defined diseases but everyone has blood pressure otherwise they would not be alive. Every time the heart beats, every pulse beat, the blood pressure reaches a high level called the systolic level and then between the beats the pressure drops to a low level called the diastolic blood pressure. The blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury if you remember the old machines that were used to measure blood pressure called sphygmomanometers there was clearly a column of blood pressure that you could see the doctor watching. Most machines are now electronic but the term blood pressure is still measured in millimetres of mercury.
The term high blood pressure is a short hand way of saying that your blood pressure is of a height that increases your risk of a stroke or heart disease or dementia, even though you feel nothing wrong because high blood pressure is a condition without symptoms. The particular level where at which a doctor will tell you “you’ve got high blood pressure” is set nationally and doctors and nurses work to a guideline that says where high blood pressure starts but the doctor may want to take into account the fact that there are other risk factors present such as type 2 diabetes. The threshold for high blood pressure is a 140/90mm HG which is shorthand for one hundred and forty millimetres of mercury for the systolic pressure and ninety millimetres of mercury for the diastolic pressure.
Why is high blood pressure important?
High blood pressure increases the risk of:
- heart disease – heart attacks and heart failure
- disease of the arteries of the legs
- kidney disease
- dementia –the famous medical journal called the Lancet, rates this as one of the main preventable causes of dementia
Who is there to help?
The British Heart Foundation website contains excellent advice and information.
There are now effective drugs to lower blood pressure and many people now receive treatment and good monitoring of the blood pressure to make sure that the treatment is working. Your GP, practice nurse and pharmacist know all about these drugs, if one does not suit you another will however we now know that what you do for yourself may be as important as the prescribed medication.
Top tips for action
Firstly, get your blood pressure measured if you have not had it done in the last five years.
There are many things that increase the blood pressure and there are therefore many steps you can take to reduce the blood pressure.
Increasingly many doctors are now advising changes in lifestyle either before they start prescribing drugs or at the same time as the drug prescription starts.
Here are the key steps that can reduce blood pressure:
- Reduce the amount of salt you eat, not only the added salt on the table but in cooking but the salt that is present in so many packaged snacks
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Exercise regularly, and this can also help with the weight loss
- Move your diet more to the Mediterranean diet and there is a special diet widely used in America called the DASH diet.
- Reduce stress if you feel yourself under stress and this will help you sleep
- Get at least seven hours good sleep at night
- Stop smoking if you still smoke because these two risk factors are a lethal combination.
You can also monitor your own blood pressure now, once a week when your are starting treatment and once a month when you are steady – try the Omron device.
Get your blood pressure as low as you can and reduce your risk the common disabling diseases.
About the author: Professor Sir Muir Gray, CBE
Muir Gray consults for springchicken.co.uk, the lifestyle website for older adults.
He recently described himself (in a tweet) as the Don Quixote of the NHS: “tilting, always tilting.” As Chief Knowledge Officer of the NHS his job was defined by what he does—promoting improved care by the better use of evidence. Born, raised, and educated in Glasgow, he was a surgeon before he turned to public health in the 1970s. In the rest of his life he is developing Better Value Healthcare, whose mission is to publish handbooks and development programmes designed to get more value from health care resources in England, and worldwide.
Muir’s most recent book: Sod 70, the guide to living well is available here>>>. He is also the Director of the National Campaign for Walking, is married with two daughters and lives in Oxford.
Any information of a medical nature on this website is given to provide a general understanding of a medical condition or conditions.
No patient/doctor relationship is to be inferred and you should seek medical advice from a qualified practitioner.
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