Is my blood pressure normal?

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Answers to common questions about blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the most common health conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. This is why visiting your doctor to get your blood pressure checked is so important.

When it comes to your blood pressure, what you don’t know can harm your health. High blood pressure rarely has any noticeable symptoms. So often people don’t realise they have high blood pressure. What’s more, many of us are not aware of how the things we do in our daily lives can contribute to raising our blood pressure.

During Heart Week 2017 we are talking about the importance of knowing and managing your blood pressure.

What is blood pressure?

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood into your body’s organs and tissues. Blood is pumped out of the left side of your heart into the arteries - the blood vessels that carry the blood’s oxygen and nutrients to your body. As the blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries, it pushes against the artery walls. Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure of the blood in the artery.

Blood pressure peaks when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood, a cycle called systole. It falls when the heart relaxes and refills with blood, a cycle called diastole. Systole is the top number and diastole is the bottom number. It is displayed as two numbers, e.g 120/80 mmHg.

What is normal blood pressure?

An optimal blood pressure level is a reading under 120/80 mmHg. Readings over 120/80mmHg and up to 139/89mmHg are in the normal to high range. Your doctor will advise what your ideal blood pressure should be based on your circumstances.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure over 140/90mmHg is generally considered to be high. When your blood pressure is high your heart and arteries can become overloaded. High blood pressure can accelerate the build-up of plaque on the artery walls (atherosclerosis), clogging blood flow to your heart muscle, putting you at risk of heart attack. It also weakens the walls of arteries in your brain which can cause stroke.  It can affect arteries to other parts of your body too, such as the eyes, kidneys and legs. Long term high blood pressure is known as hypertension and is one of the main risk factors for heart disease.

What causes high blood pressure?

Blood pressure goes up and down throughout the day. It depends on the time of day, the amount of fluid in your body, the medicines in your system and what you are doing. Your blood pressure can also be affected by things like your breathing, your emotions, exercise and sleep. These temporary rises are completely natural and your blood pressure will generally return to normal when you rest.

The exact cause of high blood pressure is often not clear. However, various lifestyle conditions and behaviours have been known to significantly contribute to high blood pressure:

  • Being overweight
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Drinking more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day
  • Stress
  • Old age
  • Smoking
  • Family history of high blood pressure

Prolonged high blood pressure is known as hypertension. Left undiagnosed, hypertension can lead to several health issues, coronary heart disease (CHD) among them.

How to control high blood pressure

The good news is you can control (and even help prevent) high blood pressure by making healthy lifestyle choices. These include:

  • Following a healthy diet; reducing salt and fat intake and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting your alcohol intake
  • Stopping smoking

Sometimes changes in your lifestyle alone may not be enough. Many people will also need medication to help reduce their blood pressure. If you need to take medication to lower your blood pressure your doctor will discuss this with you

How do I know if my blood pressure is healthy?

You should ask your doctor to check your blood pressure regularly. It’s easy and quick to do.

If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked lately - make an appointment to get it checked.  

For more information on important lifestyle changes you can make to  reduce your blood pressure levels please visit our keep your heart healthy page.

If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked lately - make an appointment to get it checked. Download and print our handy blood pressure recording card, and keep it with you to keep track of your numbers.