High blood pressure
What is blood pressure? Blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of the arteries as it is pumped around your body by your heart. About 30-40% of people in Ireland have high blood pressure but are unaware. High blood pressure is also called hypertension. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure – the only way of knowing if you have it is to have your blood pressure measured.
Your blood pressure has two figures, for example, 120/80. The top figure is called your systolic pressure which is the pressure against the wall of the artery when the heart muscle contracts, or pumps. The second figure is the is called the diastolic pressure – this is the pressure when the heart relaxes.
Blood pressure results:
- Less than 120 mmHg (systolic) and less than 80mmHg (diastolic) is optimal
- 120-129 mmHg (systolic) and/or 80-84 mmHg (diastolic) is normal blood pressure
- 130-139 mmHg (systolic) and/or 85-89 mmHg (diastolic) is high normal
- Greater than 140 mmHg (systolic) and 90 mmHg(diastolic) is hypertension (high blood pressure)
If you are measuring your own blood pressure at home, it is important you have a good routine and technique. Common errors in blood pressure measurement has lead to significant errors of undermanagement and overmedication (AHA, 2017).
5 Step Checklist for checking your blood pressure:
- Properly prepare and position yourself correctly
- Use proper technique
- Take proper numbers and type of measurement
- Properly document your readings e.g in a notepad
- Supply readings to your GP or healthcare professional
Tips before measuring your blood pressure or getting it measured:
- Rest for 15 minutes beforehand.
- No smoking, exercising or caffeine 30 minutes before taking blood pressure. These can all raise blood pressure.
- Make sure your legs are uncrossed. Crossed legs can add 2-8 mmHg to the reading.
- Empty your bladder before taking a reading. Blood pressure can be as much as 10mmHg higher with a full bladder.
- Your back needs to be fully supported and feet need to be fully supported. Not being fully supported can increase your blood pressure by 6 mmHg.
- Your arm also needs to be fully supported, with the palms facing upward. If your arm is not supported, it can raise the blood pressure by 10 mmHg.
- No talking or listening during the reading – this can raise the BP by 10 mmHg.
- Don’t place the cuff over your clothing. This can raise the blood pressure by up to 50 mmHg.
What are the recommendations for managing blood pressure?
- Reduce your weight
- Increase your physical activity to 150 minutes per week gradually
- Drink Alcohol in moderation only. 17 units per week for men and 11 units per week for women are the recommended amounts.
- Limit your salt intake.
- Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products
- Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor#
- Stop smoking
Why is blood pressure a risk factor for heart disease?
High blood pressure puts a lot of strain on the wall of your arteries. In the brain, this can lead to a stroke or an aneurysm rupture. High blood pressure can also contribute to dementia.
In the heart, it can lead to a heart attack. Prolonged hypertension can also lead to kidney failure.
High blood pressure also puts pressure on the muscle of the heart causing the muscle to enlarge and, if left untreated over time, can lead to heart failure.
Exercise and Hypertension
- Avoid isometric strengthening as this causes increased resistance in the muscle thus raising blood pressure
- Use lower weights for the arms and heavier for the legs. The guidelines for both the upper and lower limbs suggest 10-15 reps of an exercise, 3 times a day, 3 times a week.
- The general recommended guidelines for aerobic exercise are 30 minutes, 5-7 days per week. For those with heart disease, the exercise prescription is more specific. Ask a member of the team at Heart 2 Heart for a reminder on how much aerobic exercise you should be doing each week.
- Aerobic exercise causes the vessels in your system to widen by a release of a substance called Nitric Oxide. This results in less resistance for your heart to pump against, which then leads to a gradual decrease in blood pressure.
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
Unfortunately, you cannot feel high blood pressure. There are no symptoms, and it needs to be checked regularly by a healthcare professional. Your doctor or healthcare professional might want to perform 24-hour blood pressure monitoring with you to see how your blood pressure is controlled throughout the day and overnight.