blood pressure

Alison Freemantle, from Vitality partner LloydsPharmacy, explains why it’s vital to have your blood pressure checked. 

Does high blood pressure have symptoms?

There are no symptoms with high blood pressure. Some people get occasional headaches, but otherwise there are no signs or clues that you have this condition – even though it can potentially lead to a stroke, a heart attack, kidney disease and eyesight damage. No wonder it is often referred to as ‘the silent killer’.

What does a blood pressure reading tell?

A blood pressure reading tells us the health of our cardiovascular system: the force at which the heart pushes blood around the body. The higher the reading, the stronger the heart is working – but the heart is just a muscle and if it works too hard, it can become damaged, resulting in serious medical consequences and lasting ill health. The British Heart Foundation estimates that there are up to seven million people in the UK with undiagnosed hypertension, better known as high blood pressure, with the majority in their fifties. For men the problem is worse. Before their mid-forties only 16 per cent of men are affected, but for the 45 to 54 age range that jumps to 34 per cent. From age 55 to 64 it affects nearly half the male population. Women fare better with 10 per cent under 45 affected. From 45 to 54 that rises to 26 per cent, with 40 per cent likely to be affected from the age of 55 onwards.

What causes high blood pressure?

The trouble with high blood pressure is that there are so many risk factors for it. People who are overweight are more likely to be affected, as are people who smoke, drink too much coffee or alcohol, or have a diet that’s too high in salt.

One of the greatest contributors to high blood pressure, though, is genetics. If someone in your family has had it, it’s more likely to be passed down through the generations. This is more significant if any male family member below the age of 55 has had a heart attack, or below 65 for a female family member. If that is the case, even individuals who are fit and at a healthy weight can have hypertension or problems with their cardiovascular system, simply because they have inherited the problem. People of Afro Caribbean or Asian descent are also more likely to be affected, particularly at an early age, though it is unclear why this is the case.

Can you control high blood pressure?

On a more positive note, we can all control our blood pressure to some extent. Not smoking, eating a varied diet that includes fruit and vegetables, limiting our sugar and alcohol intake, making sure to exercise regularly…all of these contribute to a healthier blood pressure level. The important thing is to know what your blood pressure reading is in the first place.

How can you get your blood pressure checked?

Vitality members can get a blood pressure measurement as part of their annual Vitality Healthcheck, but all members aged over 16 are eligible for a free five-minute test on-the-spot at any LloydsPharmacy branch. And because we are open on Saturdays, you don’t have to take time off work to find out your blood pressure. Alternatively, you can get your blood pressure checked by your GP.

What is an ideal blood pressure reading?

An ideal blood pressure reading is 120mmHg over 80mmHg. The first figure is called the systolic reading: it relates to when the heart contracts in order to pump out blood. The lower number refers to when the heart relaxes and fills with blood ready for the next pump action: the diastolic reading. A reading of 140mmHg over 90mmHg is considered to be high blood pressure, also known as hypertension: you would generally be referred to your GP with this high a reading for further investigation. Low blood pressure is 90 over 60.

If you are in the normal range but at the higher end, then you should think about lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, reducing your coffee, alcohol and salt intake, and exercising more. High blood pressure can be controlled and there are many preventative measures that can be taken before a patient needs to consider medication. The first step, though, is to get your blood pressure taken, see where you are and go from there.

Is low blood pressure dangerous?

Low blood pressure can have some small associated side-effects such as feeling light-headed if you get to your feet too quickly, but on the whole the good news is that low blood pressure does not lead to more serious health consquences for your heart. If you do have low blood pressure, the best advice is to just keep an eye on it and generally try to stay in good health.

Blood pressure: systolic pressure over diastolic pressure

is the pressure when the heart beats, and the ventricles contract to pump blood into the circulatory system

is the pressure when the heart rests between beats, the ventricles relax and the heart refills with blood before the next contraction

How do they test blood pressure?

On your first visit to LloydsPharmacy, three blood pressure readings will be taken: one each on the upper part of both arms to ‘determine the reference’ – that is, to find out which one will give the highest reading – then the final one on that arm. A rubber cuff is placed around it and inflated to make it tight. Attached to the cuff is a measuring device that records the heart’s contraction – giving the higher reading – and measures it when it relaxes, for the lower reading.

The practitioner will also use a stethoscope to listen to your pulse while the air is being released from the cuff. An ideal reading is generally considered to be 120 over 80.

What if my heart’s beating faster than normal?

It is always best to take a blood pressure reading when you’re sitting and relaxed. Patients should avoid smoking, alcohol or coffee beforehand as they cause the heartbeat to rise. A full bladder can also make a reading higher.

Why do they take multiple readings?

At LloydsPharmacy, we take two readings after those three on your first visit, each about a minute apart, so we can find the average. The first reading is usually higher because people are slightly more anxious – while the second one is lower because the patient knows what to expect and is more relaxed.

And if I have high blood pressure?

You’ll be given advice on lifestyle changes you can make – losing weight, smoking and drinking less, doing more exercise – to bring the reading down. There might come a time when medication is required so it’s important to consult your GP.

How often should I do this test?

Vitality members have their blood pressure tested as part of their annual Vitality Healthcheck, but if you’ve decided to keep a closer eye on yours for any reason, you can pop into any branch of LloydsPharmacy at any time (you don’t need to make an appointment) to do it again. If you have concerns, you should seek guidance from your GP.

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