What does 140/90 even mean?

Do you know your numbers?

This year’s Know Your Numbers! Week is all about knowing your blood pressure numbers to live a long and healthy life.

Many of us are living well into our 70s, 80s and 90s. With so much life to look forward to, these years should be healthy and happy for everyone, free from disease and disability.

The key to a healthy later life is in keeping ourselves fit and healthy for as long as possible, making the most of the support available along the way.  Therefore in 2019 the aim of Know Your Numbers Week is to encourage people to live well for longer by going to get their blood pressure checked either at one of Blood Pressure UK's Pressure Stations during the week, via community pharmacy, practice nurse, self-care at home or through your occupational health provider, as high blood pressure has no symptoms.

Together we can help to prevent death and disability from stroke and heart disease caused by high blood pressure.

If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause serious health problems and increases the risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease such as angina, heart attack, heart failure and aneurysms
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Visual problems.

For most people, there may be no single cause for their high blood pressure and we don’t know exactly what causes it.  This is referred to as primary hypertension.  If it is caused by  an underlying medical condition it is referred to as secondary hypertension.

Some factors increase your risk of developing high blood pressure such as:

  • Age: as you get older, the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle can build up and your blood pressure can increase
  • Ethnic origin: people from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities are at greater risk than other people of high blood pressure
  • Family history: you are at greater risk if other members of your family have, or have had, high blood pressure
  • An unhealthy lifestyle: this is likely to raise your blood pressure over time.

What is blood pressure?

When your heart beats, it pumps blood round your body to give it the energy and oxygen it needs. As the blood moves, it pushes against the sides of the blood vessels. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your arteries (and your heart) and this may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Blood pressure is measured in “millimetres of mercury” (mmHg) and is written as two numbers, e.g. if your reading is 120/80mmHg, your blood pressure is “120 over 80”.

The first (or top) number is your systolic blood pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle.  The second (or bottom) number is your diastolic blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats. Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmgHG and 120/80mmHg. As a general guide, High blood pressure is a level consistently at or above 140mmHg and/or 90mmHg. You may also have high blood pressure if just one of the numbers is higher than it should be over a number of weeks.

How you can tell if you have high blood pressure

Having high blood pressure (hypertension) is not usually something that you feel or notice. It does not tend to produce obvious signs or symptoms so the only way to detect it is by routine screening.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure?

We do know that your lifestyle can help prevent and lower high blood pressure and these would include:

  • Avoiding too much salt in your diet
  • Sticking to a healthy diet which includes fruit and vegetables
  • Eat less sugar and saturated fat
  • Regular exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Reduce alcohol intake if you drink too much
  • Cut down on caffeine
  • Learn to relax your mind and body to help avoid using unhealthy habits to cope with stress.

If your blood pressure is very high or these lifestyle changes do not reduce it enough, your doctor may prescribe you medication to control it and to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, such as:

  • ACE inhibitors: these medicines help to relax and widen blood vessels and most of these medicines have a name that ends in “pril”.
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (or ARBs) work in a similar way and most of these medicines have names that end in “artan”
  • Calcium channel blockers: these medicines widening blood vessels which lowers blood pressure. Most of these medicines have names that in “pine”
  • Thiazide diuretics: these medicines remove unwanted fluid from the body, which helps lower blood pressure. Most of these medicines have names that end in “ide”.

There’s great 12-part programme you can follow.

Everyone should know their blood pressure. It is recommend that everyone over 40 gets their blood pressure checked at least every five years so that any potential problems can be detected early.  You can arrange to have your blood pressure checked in a number of places including your GP, your occupational health provider, gym, pharmacy or as part of your NHS Health check.

During Know Your Numbers Week, come along to a Pressure Station and get a free blood pressure check. Bring your friends and family too.

Find your nearest Pressure Station

Take a look