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High Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure?

What causes high blood pressure?

Why is high blood pressure a risk factor for Coronary Heart Disease?

How is blood pressure measured?

What can I do to help lower my blood pressure?

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure of blood in your arteries  - the blood vessels that take blood away from your heart to the rest of the body.

Having high blood pressure increases your chance of having a heart attack (and stroke), even though you don't feel ill with high blood pressure. 

But the good news is lowering your blood pressure lowers your chance of having a heart attack (or another if you've already had one). 

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What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, often also called 'hypertension', can be caused by a number of things including:

  • being overweight or obese
  • eating too much salt
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • not doing enough physical activity

High blood pressure also tends to run in families.

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Why is high blood pressure a risk factor for Coronary Heart Disease?

Having high blood pressure means that the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body.

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How is blood pressure measured?

The machine that measures your blood pressure is called a 'sphygmomanometer'.  A cuff is placed around your upper arm and is pumped up (this may feel slightly tight around your arm).  Blood pressure is measured in units called called millimeters of mercury' (mmHg). 


Blood pressure readings give two numbers: 

  • The higher number is called the "systolic" pressure - this relates to the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (contracts) pumping the blood around the body.  
  • The lower number is called the "diastolic pressure" - this relates to the lowest pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxing between heartbeats.

In adults, the target blood pressure is below 140 / 85 (140mmHg systolic and 85mmHg diastolic).  If you have Diabetes then the target is less than 130/80 (130mmHg systolic and 80mmHg diastolic)

If you don't know your own blood pressure ask your doctor or practice nurse.

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What can I do to help lower my blood pressure?

Your blood pressure will move up and down each time it is measured, so it may take a few weeks or months to decide if your blood pressure is actually high enough to need treatment.  If your blood pressure readings are high, get your blood pressure measured regularly and your treatment adjusted   After that you should have it checked twice a year. 

If you have high blood pressure you will probably need more than one kind of medicine, and many people need three medicines to keep their blood pressure down to a safe level.  You should take the pills every day and probably for the rest of your life.  If one kind of medicine does not suit you then there are several others to try.  Tell your doctor or nurse if you think that your pills are giving you problems so that you can see if a change would help.

There is more information on medication in the "Medicines for Heart Disease" section. 

Apart from taking medicines there are other things that you can do to get your blood pressure down. 

  • losing weight if you are a bit too heavy - try to lose around 1lb (0.5kg) a week.  This might not seem much but over a few weeks it will add up.
  • getting some more physical activity- this will also help you to lose weight
  • cutting down on salt will help
  • try not to drink too much alcohol. 

There is more information on losing weight, healthy eating and physical activity in the Lifestyle Changes section.

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