You’ve probably had your blood pressure checked at some point, either by your GP when you’ve not been well, as part of a medical procedure or during routine antenatal appointments with your midwife. But how much notice have you taken of the result? Is yours high, low or normal? And what even is a normal blood pressure?
‘Most of us know our height and weight measurements off the top of our head, but not enough of us know where our blood pressure sits and what the consequences are if it’s high. Monitoring yours and actively doing something about it, if required, will reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack and early death – as well as helping prevent many other life-threatening health conditions,’ says ZoomDoc’s Chief Medical Officer and GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone.
That’s why, as part of Know Your Numbers Week, the UK’s biggest blood pressure testing and awareness event, he and others are raising awareness of the importance of regular blood pressure checks.
NHS figures show that 7 out of 10 heart attacks and 8 out of 10 strokes happen to people who have high blood pressure. It also estimates that at least 6 million people in the UK don’t even know they have high blood pressure.
In case you’re one of those millions, here’s how to keep a close eye on yours and why doing so could quite literally save your life.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is described by the NHS as ‘the strength with which your blood pushes on the sides of your arteries as it’s pumped around your body.’ Your blood pressure reading or measurement can indicate something’s wrong if it’s low or high.
‘Low blood pressure (hypotension) isn’t too concerning, although it can cause dizziness and fainting,’ says Dr Kenny.
However, high blood pressure (hypertension) can be dangerous, increasing your risk of serious and even fatal health problems.
‘Ideally you want your blood pressure to be normal and if it is high, you need to take measures to bring it down and keep it down,’ he says.
Where can you check your blood pressure?
‘There’s no need to book a GP appointment just to check your blood pressure, unless you have other symptoms of concern or are unwell,’ says Dr Kenny.
Most GP practices will have the facility to check yours yourself, without needing to see the doctor. This frees up appointments for others and also means you can get a reading much quicker than having to wait!
Simply call your local practice or pop in to enquire about blood pressure reading. The receptionist or practice manager will be able to show you how to use the equipment if you’re not sure how to do it.
If you’re over 40 you’ll have yours tested every 5 years as part of your NHS Health Check.
It’s also possible to check your blood pressure at some pharmacies and workplaces, too.
But what about home blood pressure testing. Should we all be adding a blood pressure monitor to our Amazon basket and checking ours at home?
Ideally try to go to your GP practice or pharmacist to measure yours, says Dr Kenny.
‘That way there’s an expert nearby who can help you get an accurate reading. And you won’t be tempted to take it too often, which could cause unnecessary worry or stress and that won’t help your blood pressure!’ he says.
If you do buy your own blood pressure monitor for home use, make sure the one you choose is approved for use in the UK.
The NHS says, ‘to make sure your monitor is accurate, choose one that has been listed as validated for accuracy by the British and Irish Hypertension Society (BIHS). There are a number of places you can purchase a blood pressure monitor including the British Heart Foundation online shop.’
What’s the ideal blood pressure measurement?
Your blood pressure measurement records 2 different numbers using millimetres of mercury (mmHg). It measures both the systolic pressure (the pressure when your heart pushes blood out around your body) and the diastolic pressure (when your heart rests between beats and blood is pushed around your heart).
Your systolic pressure will be a higher number than your diastolic measurement.
Here’s the NHS guidance on a healthy blood pressure reading taken at a GP surgery or clinic:
- normal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- low blood pressure is considered to be lower than 89/59mmHg or lower.
Of course, your doctor or pharmacist will be able to tell you what yours is and what steps to take next.
Ways to reduce high blood pressure
If your GP detects high blood pressure, there are a number of things they may suggest to bring it down.
- losing weight
- taking regular exercise
- cutting down on processed, fatty and junk food, caffeine and alcohol
- stopping smoking
- reducing your salt intake if you have a generally healthy lifestyle
‘You may require further tests to investigate what’s causing your blood pressure to be high, or blood pressure medication to help bring it down. Your GP will go through these options with you and prescribe the best one for your age, health and ethnicity,’ says Dr Kenny.
For non-urgent help or support related to your blood pressure, talk to a ZoomDoc GP without even leaving the house. Download our app today.