Everyone has a blood pressure, which is needed to push (or pump) blood around the body. Blood pressure is represented by two numbers (e.g. 120/80), expressed as millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The first number (e.g. 120) represents systolic blood pressure - the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number (e.g. 80) is the diastolic pressure - the peak pressure when your heart rests between beats. Both numbers are important
Your blood pressure can go up and down throughout the day depending on how busy or worried you are, your level of physical activity and the amount of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco you have. Also, your general state of health can affect your blood pressure. It means that when measuring blood pressure, more than one reading needs to be taken, especially if that reading indicates a higher blood pressure than usual.
People are considered to have high blood pressure (hypertension) when repeated measurement shows their blood pressure is raised above a certain level and stays at higher levels (greater than 140mmHg for systolic or greater than 95mmHg for diastolic, or both), even when they are relaxed and sitting quietly. Having high blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood. This increases the risk of adverse effects
Symptoms of high blood pressure
In Ireland one in five adults has hypertension. Some people may experience warning signs (symptoms) (see the bullet points listed under IMPORTANT). Usually there are no symptoms and you may feel well until damage occurs.
The only way of knowing that you have high blood pressure is to have it measured by your doctor, nurse or LIFE pharmacist, and monitored on a regular basis. How often depends on your general health and whether you have other health conditions, and on the use of medicines for blood pressure control
Health risks of high blood pressure
You have a high risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke and other heart and blood vessel disease) if your blood pressure always stays high. By not taking action to lower it, blood vessel and organ damage can occur, as follows;
- brain - leading to stroke,
- eyes - leading to blindness
- heart - resulting in heart attack and heart failure (the heart has to work harder to pump blood against the higher pressure so it gets larger, exhausted and fails),
- kidneys - leading to kidney failure, dialysis and kidney transplant.
You have an even greater risk of cardiovascular disease if, in addition to having high blood pressure, you;
- follow an unhealthy dietary pattern
- are physically inactive - ie, you do less than two and a half hours per week of moderate physical activity,
- are overweight - the Weight Loss fact card has tips for reducing weight,
- have high cholesterol
- have high blood glucose - see the Type 2 Diabetes fact card.
Your doctor can assess your overall risk, find out the reason why you have raised blood pressure and advise on the best course of action, which may include medicines.
See your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
- Swollen ankles
- Irregular or rapid heart beats
- Blurred vision and dizziness
- Regularly occurring nosebleeds
- Morning headache that won’t go away
Lowering blood pressure
High blood pressure must be controlled and reduced, to prevent serious long-term complications. Simple SELF CARE lifestyle measures are important for preventing, and treating, high blood pressure. For some people, these measures are all that is required but for others, in addition to lifestyle measures, they have to take medicines.
- Maintain an ideal body weight. Ask your LIFE pharmacist about the Weight Loss fact card, and how to calculate your body mass index (BMI) - to see how close you are to your ideal weight.
- Follow a heart-healthy dietary pattern (see the Reducing Your Cholesterol fact card). Eat foods low in fat and cholesterol, trim fat off meat, and eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grain foods.
- Eat foods low in salt and sugar. That means cutting down on chips, processed meats, cured/smoked products, fast foods, sweet bakery items. Read food labels and choose low salt and sugar alternatives. Avoid adding salt when cooking.
- Be physically active. For at least 30 minutes a day on 5 or more days per week, do moderate physical activity such as brisk walking, aqua-Jogging, playing golf, washing the car, mowing lawns, vacuuming, walking the stairs at work. Do something you enjoy so it is part of your daily routine.
- Be a non-smoker
- Learn to relax - blood pressure rises when you are stressed and tense (see the Sleeping Well fact card for relaxation advice).
- Medicines control, but do not cure, blood pressure. Usually, medicines have to be taken for the rest of your life.
- Take your medicines as directed by the instructions on the label. Ask your LIFE pharmacist for advice if anything is not clear, or if you have questions.
- Take your medicines regularly, every day. Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.
- Take your medicines at the same time each day, and in the same way, so it is part of your routine. If remembering is a problem, talk with your LIFE pharmacist about a medicines’ organising system.
- Blood pressure-lowering medicines can have side effects although these effects lessen over time, or with changes to the dose. Take note of any reactions to, or problems with, your medicines and discuss these with your LIFE pharmacist or doctor.
- There are many different types of blood pressure-lowering medicines. If one type is not suitable, your doctor can prescribe a different type. For some people it can take time to find the medicine that suits them best.
- Blood pressure medicines can interact with other medicines, including those purchased but not prescribed, and with herbal remedies. Always check with your LIFE pharmacist or doctor before taking other medicines in addition to those for blood pressure.
- Have regular blood pressure checks to make sure your medicines are working well.
- As well as taking medicines, follow a healthy lifestyle to improve your health and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.