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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 Stroke?

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.  These arteries are blood vessels that transport blood from your heart to the rest of the body. It is commonly referred to as 'BP'

Having high blood pressure doubles your chance of having a stroke (and a heart attack).  Blood pressure can't be felt – it has no symptoms and often people have high blood pressure without knowing it.

However, lowering your blood pressure lowers your chance of having a stroke (or another one if you have already had one).

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What causes High Blood Pressure?

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

  • being overweight or obese
  • eating too much salt
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • not doing enough physical activity
  • high blood pressure, which tends to run in families.

Stress does not cause high blood pressure. Stress increases blood pressure in everyone but only for a little while, and no damage is done.

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Why is High Blood Pressure a risk factor for Stroke?

High blood pressure puts the blood vessels under a lot of strain and this constant strain makes the blood vessels less ‘bendy’ and flexible.  High blood pressure can also increase the ‘furring up’ of the blood vessels by fatty deposits (artherosclerosis), and if this happens in the brains blood vessels it can lead to a stroke.

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How is Blood Pressure measured?

The machine that measures your blood pressure is called a 'sphygmomanmeter'.  The procedure consists of a cuff being placed around your upper arm, the cuff is then pumped up (this may feel slightly tight around your arm).  Blood pressure is measured in units called 'milimeters 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 as prescribed by your GP, this will usually be 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 as a change may help.

There is more information on medication in the Medicines used for Stroke 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 all help
  • try not to overdo alcohol

Doing all of these can help to keep your blood pressure down and lower your chance of having a TIA or stroke.

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

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