Know your blood pressure

Love your heart, know your blood pressure

By Maureen Mulvihill*

Irish Heart Week, this year, aimed to raise awareness about blood pressure and help people assess if they might have high blood pressure, and what they could do to manage it.

In Ireland, high blood pressure is very common – over half of Irish people aged 50 and over have high blood pressure, with this figure increasing as people get older.

Unfortunately, if you have diabetes you are at increased risk of having high blood pressure, says Dr Alice Stanton, Chair of the Irish Heart Foundation's Council on Blood Pressure.

Why think about high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. "High blood pressure rarely causes any signs or symptoms until damage to blood vessels is well advanced. Unfortunately the first obvious sign may be a heart attack. The only way to check out this risk is to actually measure blood pressure," according to Dr Stanton. "However, high blood pressure is not something to be feared. It is a risk factor which can be treated effectively and help prevent heart disease. Over age 30, blood pressure should be measured at least once every five years. If your blood pressure is above normal levels (see below) it should be checked more frequently and the best place for this is in the surgery by your GP or practice nurse", says Dr Stanton.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of the blood on the walls of the artery. While it's normal for blood pressure to rise and fall during each day, when it stays abnormally high for some weeks or longer, it is called hypertension or high blood pressure.

High blood pressure together with diabetes and other factors, such as high cholesterol, smoking and inactivity can cause the blood vessels to lose their elasticity and encourage the build up of fatty deposits. This in turn can cause narrowing and blockage of the arteries leading to heart attacks, stroke and kidney problems.

However, if your high blood pressure is identified, you are extremely lucky, because now you can do something about it!

Taking steps to change your lifestyle may in some cases help bring blood pressure back to a healthy level. For others together with changes in lifestyle, medication may be required. The type of tablet and how many, will vary from one person to the next depending on how the blood pressure responds to treatment. Usually if you have been prescribed medication for high blood pressure you will have to take it for the rest of your life. On the positive side medication will reduce your risk of serious health problems.

Measuring blood pressure:

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard the heart has to work to pump the blood all around the body. When pressure is at its highest (systolic pressure), the blood is pushed through the arteries by the contraction or beat of the heart. When the heart relaxes between beats, the pressure (diastolic pressure) in the arteries falls.

Blood pressure varies depending on the activity involved, it drops when you are asleep and increases when you exercise or are under stress. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres (mm) of mercury (Hg). A normal level of blood pressure is usually described as 120 mmHg (systolic) over 80 mmHg (diastolic). High blood pressure is diagnosed if an individual consistently has a blood pressure reading equal to or greater than 140/90 mmHg. However if you have diabetes a reading above 135/85mmHg needs medical attention.

Factors influencing blood pressure:

*Apart from diabetes, there are a number of other factors that influence blood pressure, many of which are relevant in the management of diabetes­

*Your age – as you age, your blood vessels lose their elasticity, risk factors from unhealthy lifestyle habits have a greater effect on your blood vessels and high blood pressure develops much faster.

*Your family history – if you have members of your family with high blood pressure, you have an increased risk of developing the condition.

*If you drink alcohol to excess – binge drinking raises blood pressure levels. Cutting back to moderate drinking lowers blood pressure. Also, alcoholic drinks are high in calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain. Excessive drinking may be linked with eating high-fat, high-salt foods. Alcohol also lowers your blood sugar and masks signs of hypoglycaemia.

*If you are overweight – blood pressure is closely linked to body weight. Too many calories will increase bodyweight and an increase in blood pressure usually follows. Even losing a small amount of excess weight, say 10%, can help to lower blood pressure and help you manage your blood sugars better.

*If you are stressed – long-term stress may increase your blood pressure.

*Your diet –an unbalanced diet, high in salt and low in fruit and vegetables can lead to high blood pressure. Following the Food Pyramid guidelines will help to keep your blood pressure and blood sugar at a healthy level.

*Your level of physical activity – regular physical activity is not only important in controlling blood sugars but helps maintain a healthy weight, aids weight-loss and prevents weight gain, thereby influencing blood pressure levels.

*If you smoke – nicotine in tobacco smoke causes blood vessels to narrow and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke can damage them.

Key messages for a healthy blood pressure:

*Know your numbers. Ask your family doctor or practice nurse to check your blood pressure. If you are prescribed tablets to lower your blood pressure, continue to take them as directed.

*Eat more fruit and vegetables. Eat less salt and processed foods.

*If you drink alcohol, keep within the recommended limits ­ 14 standard drinks each week if you are a woman, and 21 standard drinks if you are a man (one standard drink = a small glass of wine, a half pint of beer, lager or cider or a pub measure of spirits)

*Be more physically active every day ­ at least 30 minutes every day.

*Aim to be a healthy weight for your height.

*If you smoke, try to stop. Contact the National Smoker's Quitline 1850 201 203

For more information check out… Free magazine or leaflet available by phoning 1850 364 364.

See also's Heart Disease Clinic at…

*Maureen Mulvihill is Health Promotion Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation


GeorgeP - 03/01/2007 20:50

I'm 52 and am taking one tablet of Co-Diovan 160/25mg. I recently bought a monitor OMRON M7 and have started measuring my own pressure at home, as I suffer badly from the 'white coat' syndrome. I am getting averages of 140/80. My doctor prescribed CARDURA 2mg two months ago in addition to the Co-Diovan, but I am reluctant psychologically to take more medicines too soon. Am I right or wrong ? Are my readings still too high ? Any thoughts ?

Anon - 04/01/2007 22:34

I would feel a bit uneasy too as I would consider that your blood pressure is now at a normal level for your age. 140/80 - nothing wrong with that. Are you keeping records of the b/p measurements you are taking? You should check your b/p randomly, at different times during a day for example, keep records of all the readings. If any of them differ in a significant way, note what you had been doing prior to the check. Then bring that record to your G.P. and have him review your medication. Good luck

Gjad - 16/09/2007 16:37

Why not give readings of Normal Blood Pressure, High Blood Pressure and Dangerously High Blood pressure. What is normal for elderly healthy people?

Nero. - 06/12/2007 19:48

I have low blood pressure,and so suffer with dizziness. Can anyone give me info or help?? please

Angela - 07/12/2007 19:16

Gjad, Your blood pressure rises slightly with age so there is no norm as such. Furthermore, if you give a list of 'normal' readings you will have people checking their B/P's, finding them high and worrying about it, which in turn will cause it to rise even further. Everyone's blood pressure changes all the time depending on what they are doing or if they are relaxing etc. The main thing to worry about is if the lower figure is 110 or higher for a length of time, it can cause problems. Nero, what age are you? What is your 'normal' blood pressure? I have low blood pressure myself but that is normal for me so it is not a problem.

Anonymous - 09/01/2008 08:50

Can anyone reccommend natural remedies for high B/P. Also are there any alternative medication sites one could check out.Thanks.

katiemay - 12/01/2009 20:36

Hi, I was with doc on call last week as I had relapsed with the Flu. The nurse casually mentioned that my blood pressure was high 123/90 - is this high? Should I go to my own GP to have this checked out or would you attribute this to simply being sick at the time! Thanks Smile

shylo - 23/09/2009 09:41

I,m 57 male.13 stone,5 10 feet.I jog one hour 4-5 times a lots of fruit,don't smoke,3-4 pinks beer @ week.Blood pressure 186/93.pulse 38.Any reason to worry!

t.c - 27/10/2009 00:04

hi im 32 and on blood pressure tablets for about 3 yrs  my bp is usually 150/90, i do smoke and drink on occasion, i have recently lost nearly 3 stone in weight and it is still high, along with a good diet and a lot of exercise, i would have tought it would have come down, any suggestions as to why no change

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