The heart, like other pumps, generates pressure to force the blood around the body; therefore blood pressure is the measure of how much force is needed to push the blood through the arteries and can be measured by how much force is pushed against the artery walls.

Blood pressure depends on a combination of two factors: How forcefully the heart pumps blood around the body and how narrowed or relaxed your arteries are.

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first is called the systolic blood pressure and the second is called diastolic blood pressure and these two numbers are written one above the other like a fraction, such as 120/80, and said as ‘120 over 80’

Systolic blood pressure, written on the top or said first, is the maximum pressure exerted on the artery walls and this occurs when your heart pushes blood out of the heart or when it beats.

Diastolic blood pressure, written below or said second, is the minimum pressure exerted on the artery walls and occurs when the heart relaxes to re-fill with blood, or between heart beats.

Pressure readings are taken from the height of a mercury column and blood is no different, therefore blood pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ which is written as mmHg.

Normal blood pressure is regarded as anything lower than 120/80 mmHg and generally, lower is better. However, very low blood pressure needs to be checked out by your GP.

High blood pressure

The single biggest problem with high blood pressure is that it shows no symptoms and only does show itself when it causes one of its later complications such as a stroke or heart attack.

140/90 mmHg is regarded as high and can cause:

  • The heart to increase in size which may lead to heart failure
  • Small bulges, called aneurysms, to form in the arteries as the pressure increases
  • Blood vessels in the kidney to narrow
  • Atherosclerosis – narrowing of the arteries
  • Damage to the eyes as small blood vessels within them burst or bleed
  • Stroke.

High blood pressure is also referred to as ‘Hypertension’ and can be caused by a wide range of things. Unfortunately, in around 90% of adults, the exact cause is unknown and is called primary hypertension. In the remaining 10% there is an underlying cause and is known as secondary hypertension. Secondary hypertension can be caused by chronic kidney disease, chronic alcohol abuse and disturbances in hormones.

Primary hypertension or high blood pressure can result from:

  • Family history of hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes type 1 and 2
  • Kidney disease
  • High alcohol intake
  • Excessive salt intake
  • Lack of exercise
  • Certain medicines
  • Stress.

It should be clear to see that high blood pressure is dangerous and should be treated to prevent any risk to health. So what can you do to lower it?

Well, like most other medical problems, common sense prevails and the usual treatments will reduce high blood pressure and this usually involves a change of lifestyle.

  • Stop smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Increase exercise
  • Reduce alcohol intake
  • Eat a varied and balanced diet
  • Reduce stress

The best way to reduce the risk is to have regular blood pressure measurements and lead a healthy life. If high blood pressure persists, seek advice from your GP who may subscribe medicine that reduces blood pressure.

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