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Blood Pressure Measurement - Systolic, Diastolic, Hypertension, Causes and Health Effects

Blood Pressure Explained

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What is Blood Pressure

Everyone has 'blood pressure'. It is a measure of how hard your heart has to work in order to pump blood around your body.

Measurement of blood pressure

Two different numbers measure your blood pressure level:

  • One number records the blood pressure as it is pumped out from your heart. This is called systolic pressure.
  • Another number records the pressure when your heart relaxes.
    This is called diastolic pressure.

Normal blood pressure levels

The 'normal' level is usually said to be 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic), although this varies with age, stress and activity. If your blood pressure is higher than 140/90, you should have a chat with your doctor.

How to find out if your blood pressure is high

A person with high blood pressure can look and feel perfectly OK. There are usually very few obvious symptoms. The only way to tell what your blood pressure is, is to have it measured. So if you haven't had it checked in the last couple of years, get it checked. If you are aged 40 or over, you should get it checked about once a year, especially if you smoke or suffer from obesity or drink to excess.

If you have high blood pressure

The most important thing is, DON'T PANIC! High blood pressure is relatively common and is caused by a variety of factors. Fortunately, it usually responds very well to proper treatment, so like I say - don't worry!

Causes of high blood pressure

Usually, there is no single cause: a variety of factors are involved.
For example:

  • Family history
  • Being overweight
  • High alcohol intake
  • High sodium diet (e.g. eating too much salt)
  • Low potassium diet (e.g. eating too little fruit & vegetables)
  • Getting older

The effect of high blood pressure

High blood pressure adds to the workload of the heart and arteries. Over time, this can lead to an increased likelihood of heart attacks and strokes.

How to reduce high blood pressure

Family history of high blood pressure
If you have a family history of high blood pressure and your own blood pressure is high, your doctor may recommend drug treatment. This will usually be for life, although the risk of a stroke or heart attack is usually greatly reduced.

No family history
If your blood pressure is high but you don't have a history of high blood pressure in your family, your doctor may still recommend drug treatment. However, in most cases, your doctor will advise you to adopt a healthier lifestyle along the following line:

  • Quit smoking
    Smoking and high blood pressure are two serious factors for heart disease and stroke. Smoking 20 cigarettes a day gives you twice the normal risk of a heart attack and five times the risk of a stroke.
  • Avoid being overweight
    High blood pressure and stokes are twice as common in obese people. Diabetes is four times more common in middle-aged obese people.
  • Eat less salt, and more fruit & vegetables
    Switch to low-sodium brands of salt. Don't add too much salt to food, especially processed food (processed food often contains high levels of salt). Spice your food with other ingredients.
  • Regular amounts of fresh fruit & vegetables help to maintain a normal blood pressure. They also help protect you against heart disease and cancer. So make lots of home-made soup (disguises the taste of green vegetables!) and eat lots of chopped fruit (chopped fruit is less frightening than whole pieces of fruit!)
  • Go easy on alcohol
    Try to keep your intake below these recommended upper limits
    For men - 3 units per day.
    For women - 2 units per day.
    [1 unit = half pint of beer, or 1 glass of wine; 1.5 units = 1 measure of spirits]
  • Get more active
    Long term regular physical activity can lower your blood pressure. Provided you take it slowly to begin with and gradually build up to about 20-30 minutes a day, exercise has enormous benefit. Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Learn to relax
    Stress is a major contributory factor to disease. Exactly how it affects blood pressure is not known, but anything that helps to ease your mind and reduce worry is GOOD. So go with the flow and start relaxing.

Diet and Blood Pressure Links

Blood Pressure Diet
Low Sodium Diet
Dash Diet


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