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Do You Know Your Numbers?

By Dr. Chris Morris
Dr. Chris Morris

The Know Your Numbers campaign from Blood Pressure UK encourages UK adults to find out their blood pressure measurement so if necessary they can take the suitable action to reach and maintain healthy blood pressure.

Why is it important to measure your blood pressure?

High blood pressure, referred to as Hypertension, is the leading risk factor for heart and circulatory disease in the UK, around 50% of heart attacks and strokes are associated with high blood pressure, and it is one of the most common medical conditions in the UK, with more than one in four people affected in the UK and an estimated five million people going undiagnosed*.

1 in 4 people are affected with high blood pressure

A normal systolic blood pressure is in the range 90mmHg to 120mmHg and a normal diastolic blood pressure is in the range 60mmHg to 80mmHg. This is described as 120/80mmHg, for example.

Hypertension is usually diagnosed if the blood pressure is consistently 140/90mmHg or higher over a few readings on several days, or by wearing a monitor for 24 hours.

Hypertension isn’t a disease and it doesn’t usually cause any symptoms unless it’s exceptionally high, when it might cause issues such as headaches. The only way someone will know they have hypertension is if they have their blood pressure measured.

The importance of diagnosing hypertension

Hypertension is a cause for concern because it significantly increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and it can damage vital organs and parts of your body such as:

  • the eyes
  • kidneys
  • brain (causing a type of dementia)
  • the feet and legs
  • the heart itself, causing disease

Some people will suffer no ill effects from having high blood pressure. However, it’s currently impossible to determine whether hypertension will be fatal or harmless in individual patients. What we do know is that the higher the blood pressure the greater the risk of it causing disease and sudden death from a heart attack or stroke.

It is therefore vital that people take regular blood pressure tests and, if they are diagnosed, that they are given help to reduce their blood pressure and risk of suffering ill-effects.

Risk factors

There are some conditions that cause hypertension, such as kidney disease (because they also have a crucial role in controlling blood pressure as well as being adversely affected by it). However, in most people we don’t know the cause, although we do know that there are a number of factors that increase the risk

These risk factors are:

  • smoking
  • being overweight
  • eating too much salt
  • drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
  • not taking enough exercise
  • not getting enough sleep
  • not eating enough fruit or vegetables
  • being of African or Caribbean descent
  • being over 64 years of age

We can’t do anything about our age (except try to live longer – see below) or our ethnicity. We can do something about all the other risk factors if we wish, so we urge patients with hypertension to modify their behaviour as an important part of treating the condition. Modifying risk factors is often more effective in many people than taking medication and many patients can reduce their blood pressure to normal just by changing their lifestyle.

How to reduce high blood pressure?

Lifestyle plays an important role in preventing and treating high blood pressure. The following changes on your routine can lower or help to maintain your blood pressure numbers*:

  • cut your salt intake to less than 6g a day
  • implement a low-fat and balanced diet, including fresh fruit and vegetables
  • stay active
  • cut down on alcohol
  • lose weight
  • reduce caffeine (present in coffee, tea and coke)
  • stop smoking
  • sleep at least 6 hours a night


Do you know how your blood pressure is measured?

Our blood pressure is usually measured in the upper arm by a cuff that is pumped-up with air and then slowly released, with the pressure at which the blood can flow past the cuff into the lower arm (the systolic blood pressure) and the background pressure (the diastolic blood pressure) being assessed. The systolic blood pressure is the force with which the heart pumps the blood out into the arteries and the diastolic blood pressure is the background pressure between heart beats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres (mm) of mercury from the old way of doing it by using a column of mercury (symbol Hg, so “mmHg”) and listening for the sound of the blood flowing in the artery using a stethoscope. Whilst clinicians are still taught this method, nearly everyone now uses a small box with a computer that automatically pumps-up the cuff, releases the air and uses a microphone in the cuff to listen to the blood flow. These machines are widely available to buy for as little as £15 to £20.

*British Heart Foundation

*NHS

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