Why should I know my blood pressure?

Senior Cardiac Nurse Emily McGrath asks our Associate Medical Director Dr Mike Knapton why you should get your blood pressure checked.

Blood pressure measurement

Why does my blood pressure matter?

Blood pressure keeps blood circulating around your body, but if your blood pressure is raised it puts you at increased risk of a number of conditions, including heart attack and stroke.

It might not cause any symptoms, but you should always take high blood pressure seriously

It’s important to have your blood pressure checked because there are rarely any symptoms, so you may not know it’s high until it’s too late. Around seven million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure.

It might not cause any symptoms, but you should always take high blood pressure seriously. It’s an even bigger problem if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, as it can raise your risk of complications. Once someone has been diagnosed, they can reduce their risk with treatments and lifestyle changes.

How is blood pressure measured? 

If you’re over 40 and haven’t been diagnosed with a long-term condition, ask your GP if you can have a health check.

Your doctor wouldn’t usually give a diagnosis based on one blood pressure reading. This is because your blood pressure varies through the day, and some people experience higher readings when their doctor measures it – known as ‘white coat hypertension’.

Your doctor wouldn’t usually give a diagnosis based on one blood pressure reading

These days, high blood pressure is usually diagnosed after you’ve used an ambulatory or home blood pressure monitor. An ambulatory monitor is worn for 24 hours, with a cuff around the upper arm and an electronic device attached to your belt to record the data, which your GP can download onto a computer. Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring provides a much better assessment of your blood pressure and your GP can base your treatment on that.

What do the numbers on my blood pressure reading mean?

Your blood pressure is made up of two numbers – the systolic (top number) and the diastolic (the bottom number). The systolic indicates the pressure within the arteries when the heart contracts, while the diastolic indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.

What should my blood pressure be?

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, your blood pressure should be below 135/85 (based on home or ambulatory monitoring), or 130/80 or below for people with heart disease, stroke, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

What is the treatment for high blood pressure?

In the last few years we have moved away from recommending beta blockers as a first choice

Lifestyle changes can help to reduce your blood pressure. This may include increasing your physical activity, losing weight, having less salt, cutting down on alcohol and eating a healthy diet.

There are four main types of medicines used to treat high blood pressure. They are ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel blockers and diuretics. ARBs are the usual first choice if you’re under 55, or calcium channel blockers if you’re over 55, or of African Caribbean descent. In the last few years we have moved away from recommending beta blockers as a first choice to treat high blood pressure.  

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