Blood Pressure Basics
High blood-pressure is often called the 'silent killer', as it rarely shows any signs or symptoms. It is important that everyone knows their blood pressure in the same way that everyone knows their height or weight.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure your heart produces when it pumps blood around the network of tubes (arteries) that carry blood all around your body. Everybody needs blood pressure to survive as the blood is the transportation device that carries oxygen and nutrients around the body. However, if the blood pressure becomes too high, it can begin to cause problems.
High blood pressure has become one of the NHS's top priorities, yet many people still don't understand what it means.
If you know you have high blood pressure, consider yourself quite lucky - over a third of people with high blood pressure are not aware of it, so are not being treated for this potentially life-threatening disease. That's because although an estimated 16 million people in the UK and 65 million in America, suffer from high blood pressure, it rarely presents any symptoms. In fact, the only way to discover you have it is for your GP or Pharmacist to measure your blood pressure, or to do so yourself using a home DIY monitor.
The higher your blood pressure is, the bigger the risk of damage to the delicate lining of your blood vessels will be. In turn, this speeds up the age-related furring of the arteries. High blood pressure is a risk factor for developing heart disease (particularly hardening and narrowing of the arteries), stroke, damage to eyesight, and kidney damage, and also has possible links with dementia.
How is Blood Pressure Measured?
When your GP or pharmacist measure your blood pressure, they are actually measuring two different pressures - systolic and diastolic - which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is beating and forcing blood through the arteries. When receiving a reading, the smaller number refers to the diastolic pressure which is the pressure between heartbeats. The larger number refers to the systolic pressure which is the pressure as the heart actually beats. So, for example, your blood pressure reading could be 120/70 (120 is the systolic and 70 the diastolic). Your blood pressure varies depending on the time of day or stress you are under, so at least three readings will be taken before any diagnosis of high blood pressure is made.
A normal blood pressure measurement is no more than 140/85; a reading of 160/90 or above requires treatment.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Around 90% of people who are diagnosed with high blood pressure have 'essential hypertension' which means the body's small blood vessels have narrowed with no definite cause. For a few people, kidney or hormone problems are the cause of their high blood pressure. This is categorised as 'secondary hypertension', which means that the high blood pressure is a result of an underlying problem.
Smoking causes your arteries to narrow - just as high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure do - so you're significantly increasing your risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack if you have high blood pressure and smoke.
High cholesterol has also been associated with high blood-pressure. There are two different types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). 'Bad' LDL settles on the artery walls and can narrow and block them, which in turn can cause a rise in blood pressure, while 'good' HDL removes the harmful LDL from the arteries. Saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, cakes, biscuits and crisps increase the amount of 'bad' LDL in your blood, while wholegrain breads, cereals, brown rice and wholegrain pasta increase the amount of 'good' HDL in your blood.
\"Everyone should know what their blood pressure is. Think of it as part of your body's MOT and a number you know, in the same way that you know how much you weigh or how tall you are\" says the Blood Pressure Association. It suggests all adults should be checked at least once every five years, but preferably more often. This is especially true, as you get older, as blood pressure goes up with age.
Some people are more susceptible to suffering from high blood pressure, including those who:
- Are very overweight
- Drink large amounts of alcohol
- Are under a lot of stress
- Have a family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack
- Are of African-Caribbean or South Indian origin
- Have diabetes
- Eat too much salt
- Don't eat enough fruit and vegetables
- Don't exercise
- Are older (more than 50 per cent of people aged over 65 have high blood pressure)
How can I Treat High Blood Pressure?
If you have mild high blood pressure - between 140/90 and 160/100 - but are otherwise healthy, your GP may just advise you to make lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing your salt intake, losing weight) to see if that helps. Your GP will continue to monitor your blood pressure closely and medication may then be advised if it doesn't fall. There are three main types of medication used to treat high blood pressure: diuretics (which reduce the volume of blood), beta blockers (which cause the heart to beat more slowly) and calcium channel blockers (which help relax the blood vessels).
The most important steps are dietary - eat more fresh fruit and vegetables; cut down on fatty meats, full-fat dairy products and fried foods; eat more oily fish; drink less caffeine (coffee, tea and cola); cut down on the amount of salt you eat; and drink alcohol in moderate amounts (one to two units a day). You can also help yourself by reaching your ideal weight and taking regular exercise.
Can Low Blood Pressure be a Problem?
Low blood pressure - around 90/60 - is rarely a problem and may protect you from many of the medical problems associated with high blood pressure. However, someone with low blood pressure can be more susceptible to dizziness or fainting spells. If this occurs, see your GP, who will also check that there is no underlying problem - such as diabetes or adrenal failure - causing your low blood pressure.
How can I Help?
The exact causes of high blood-pressure are still not fully understood. This heightens the importance for medical research to continue in this field, so that a better understanding of the disease can be reached. By conducting medical research and clinical trials, researchers can test the effectiveness and safety of new treatments which will eventually result in them becoming available to the public. Medical trials play a vital role in improving the quality of people's lives as it enables new medications and treatments to be developed. Clinical trials would not be possible without the volunteers. If you participate in medical research or medical trials, you could be playing a key role in the development of a new treatment that will improve millions of people's lives. You may even be the key to a cure for high blood pressure. If you have high blood-pressure, or even if you do not, take a look through the BioTrax studies section to see if there is a study that you can get involved in.
Medical research studies may be conducted and are carefully designed to answer specific medical questions while protecting participants´ safety. Well conducted medical trials are the fastest and safest way to find improved treatments and preventions for diseases. Clinical trials or interventional trials determine whether experimental preventions, treatments, or new ways of using known therapies are safe and effective under controlled conditions. Observational or natural history studies examine health issues and disease development in groups of people or populations. For more information on current medical trials or to register on the BioTrax database, view the study section at www.biotrax.com .
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