What is blood pressure? Why is it significant? What can be done to control it? This article aims to answer all of the questions you have about blood pressure, and more!
The heart is a muscular pump designed to force blood through our body. Blood is pumped from the heart through the arteries out to our muscles and organs. Put simply, too much pressure puts a strain on the arteries and on the heart itself. This can cause an artery to rupture or the heart to fail under the strain – in the worst case stopping altogether!
Blood pressure depends on a combination of two factors:
- How forcefully the heart pumps blood around the body
- How narrowed or relaxed your arteries are
Hypertension (high blood pressure) occurs when blood is forced through the arteries at an increased pressure and is a very common complaint- around 10 million people in the UK have high blood pressure – that’s one in six of us.
What is normal blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured and explained to you using two numbers – usually by your Doctor, nurse or other health professional. An example of this two-numbered explaination could be ‘your blood pressure is 120 over 80′, which is written as “120/80mmHg”.
The first figure is the systolic blood pressure – the maximum pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts (beats) and pushes blood out into the body.
The second figure is the diastolic blood pressure. This is the minimum pressure in the arteries between beats when the heart relaxes to fill with blood.
The systolic pressure is always listed first, then the diastolic pressure. A typical normal blood pressure reading would be 120/80 mmHg.
When is blood pressure classed as high?
There is a natural tendency for blood pressure to rise with age due to the reduced elasticity of the arterial system. Age is therefore one of the factors that needs to be taken into account in deciding whether a person’s blood pressure is too high.
In general terms, people with a systolic blood pressure consistently above 160mmHg and/or a diastolic pressure over 100mmHg need to take measures to lower their blood pressure, such as exercise, eating a healthier diet and drinking more water.
People with slightly lower blood pressures (140-159mmHg systolic or 90-99mmHg diastolic) may also need treatment if they have a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, e.g. stroke or angina (chest pains).
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
One of the big problems with high blood pressure is that it hardly ever causes symptoms. This means it may go unnoticed until it causes one of its later, more serious, complications such as a stroke or heart attack. Despite the popular opinion, nose bleeds and red complexions are hardly ever caused by high blood pressure – usually they are down to another issue.
Severe hypertension can cause symptoms such as:
What complications are caused by high blood pressure?
- Atherosclerosis: a narrowing of the arteries.
- Stroke: haemorrhage or blood clot in the brain.
- Aneurysm: dangerous expansion of the main artery either in the chest or the abdomen, which becomes weakened and may rupture.
- Heart attack.
- Heart failure: reduced pumping ability.
- Kidney failure.
- Eye damage.
What causes hypertension?
- High Cholesterol
- Weak Heart
- Chronic kidney diseases
- Diseases in the arteries supplying the kidneys
- Hormonal disturbances
- Endocrine tumours.
What factors increase the risk of hypertension?
Anyone can suffer from high blood pressure, but certain factors can seriously aggravate hypertension and increase the risk of complications:
- A tendency in the family to suffer hypertension
- Diabetes Type 1 or Type 2
- Kidney diseases
- High alcohol intake
- Excessive salt intake
- Lack of exercise
- Certain medicines, such as steroids.
What can I do to reduce my blood pressure?
- Stop smoking
- Lose weight
- Exercise regularly
- Cut down on alcohol
- Eat a varied diet
- Reduce stress by trying different relaxation techniques, or by avoiding stressful situations.
Which medicines are used to treat hypertension?
Medicines are generally only used in very severe cases, where diet and exercise have not helped enough. The reason medication was so easily prescribed for hypertension is because it is only recently the benefits of exercise as a treatment have been discovered. The NHS is now encouraging hypertension sufferers to seek help through exercise before they use the medication.
If the problem does require medication, one of the following is most commonly used…
Beta-blockers block the effect of the hormone adrenaline and the sympathetic nervous system on the body. This relaxes the heart so that it beats more slowly, lowering the blood pressure.
Alpha-blockers cause the blood vessels to relax and widen. Combining them with beta-blockers has a greater effect on the resistance in the circulation.
Calcium-channel blockers reduce muscle tension in the arteries, expanding them and creating more room for the blood flow. In addition, they slightly relax the heart muscle so it beats more slowly, reducing blood pressure.
Diuretics help the body get rid of excess salt and fluids via the kidneys. In certain cases, they relax blood vessels, reducing the strain on your circulation.
By treating hypertension well, complications can be avoided and average life expectancy will remain almost normal. The important thing is to have regular checks and to recognise any changes in your blood pressure, particularly if you are over 40 and have a family history of hypertension or heart disease.
Thankfully, hypertension is a problem that can be easily managed with diet and exercise. Medication is a last resort in many cases, and a sensible diet and exercise regime will ensure you certainly limit any potential problems caused by hypertension.