Two numbers are used to measure the level of your blood pressure. One number records blood pressure when the pressure is at its highest i.e. as the heart muscle squeezes out the blood from your heart – this is called systolic pressure.
Then, the other number is when your heart relaxes i.e. allows the blood to flow back into the heart – this is called diastolic pressure.
The normal level of blood pressure is usually about 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). If you have been told that your blood pressure is 140 over 90 or higher (or 140 over 80 if you have diabetes) you should discuss this with your family doctor.
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), it means your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk of heart attack or stroke.
If not treated or kept under control, it is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
A number of factors combine to raise blood pressure, and high blood pressure tends to run in families.
Being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much salt and not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables may lead to an increase in blood pressure. As you grow older, your blood pressure also increases.
Contrary to popular opinion, high blood pressure is not a disease of the nervous or highly strung person, nor is it caused by a stressful lifestyle.
In a very small number of people, there is a specific cause for high blood pressure, and removing the cause can produce a ‘cure’. Your doctor will know when to look out for signs of these rare conditions.
For a healthy level of blood pressure it’s important to:
You have high blood pressure if either your systolic blood pressure is 140 mmHg or higher, or your diastolic blood pressure is 90 mmHg or higher, after it has been measured a number of different times.
A person with high blood pressure may feel well, look well and rarely has any symptoms. Blood pressure varies with age and depends on how active you are before it is measured. If you are nervous or anxious, the measurement can be higher than usual.
One high reading does not necessarily mean that you have seriously high blood pressure. Your doctor will usually want to check your blood pressure several times, before deciding whether or not you have high blood pressure.
The more readings you get, the more accurate it is.
If you have a high reading at your first appointment, you should be asked back for at least two more appointments so that your measurements can be checked.
The more blood pressure readings you have, the more accurate your diagnosis of high blood pressure will be, particularly as blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and night.
If you are over 30, you should have your blood pressure checked at least every 5 years. If your blood pressure is borderline high (around 140 over 90), it should be checked more often by your family doctor or practice nurse.
Checking your blood pressure at home
If you suffer from high blood pressure and are thinking of purchasing a BP monitor to measure your blood pressure at home, it is important that you select the right device.
With so many different devices available it can be confusing to know which is the best home blood pressure monitor for you. The good news is that an international non-profit organization STRIDE-BP has been recently established with the mission to improve the accuracy of BP measurement and the diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Please remember that your home monitor will need to be re-calibrated every one to two years, please check the manufacturer guidelines for information on this.
See here for more information and a video on how to measure your blood pressure at home
These lifestyle changes may help to reduce your blood pressure and can sometimes bring blood pressure that is mildly high to a normal level, but for most people, tablets that lower blood pressure will be required.
Medication and high blood pressure
For most people with high blood pressure, tablets prescribed by your doctor will reduce your blood pressure to normal or healthy levels. Your doctor may organise further 24-hour blood pressure monitoring for you after starting treatment to make sure these new tablets have brought your blood pressure down to normal.
The number and type of tablet varies from one person to the next, and depends on how the blood pressure responds to the treatment.