Boughton Church Window Gary Trouton

Blood Pressure The Silent Killer

January 2001

Advice on reducing your blood presure

You may have heard your friends or relatives talking about their 'blood pressure' but may well not really have any idea what they are talking about. Well this is your opportunity to find out.

Blood Pressure is very simply the pressure under which your blood is pumped around your body by your heart. Your heart beats 70 to 80 times a minute to pump oxygen and blood through your Arteries to all of the important parts of your body; your brain, kidneys, eyes, muscles etc. Your blood pressure is the pressure of your blood in the arteries as it goes around your body in exactly the same way as your Tyre Pressure is the pressure of the air in your car tyres.

When we talk about Blood Pressure in the medical context we really mean High Blood Pressure or Hypertension. Imagine for a moment taking your car to the garage and blowing up the tyres with the airline; if you leave the airline on and go away, the pressure goes up and up and eventually the tyre goes bang! The same thing applies to your arteries; if the Blood Pressure gets too high then the arteries can burst causing disasters like heart attacks or strokes. Fortunately this is rare but you may also know that it you inflate your tires too hard, but not high enough to burst, then you will damage them; the car doesn't drive so well and the tyres only last a fraction of their normal life.

High Blood Pressure is like this. We know from research that if your Blood Pressure is higher than normal then your risk of complications such as a heart attack or stroke, kidney failure or blindness goes up. The good news is that if you can bring it down again then the risks go away.

You don't! The big problem with high blood pressure is that it usually doesn't cause any symptoms. Occasionally, people complain of vague symptoms such as headache or tiredness but High Blood Pressure is usually only diagnosed when somebody has it checked, often only as part of another illness. The only way to know whether you suffer from high blood pressure is to have it measured by a doctor or nurse. This is a simple painless procedure that only takes 5 minutes. An inflatable cuff is blown up around the upper arm and the pressure at which the blood flow is stopped is measured by the height of a column of mercury in the sphygmomanometer. The pressure in measured, therefore, in millimetres of mercury (or mmHg). The healthy average is about 120/80 mmHg.

In most cases we simply don't know. We suspect that there is a tendency for Blood Pressure to run in families and we know that some things make it worse, for instance being overweight or eating too much salt. In most cases though we never find out exactly why a particular person suffers with high blood pressure.

In most cases where the pressure is not an immediate danger to people we recommend lifestyle changes, which we know can help reduce it. If this fails, however, we usually have to recommend drug treatments. We try to suit these to the individual patient so as to give the maximum benefit to the blood pressure with the minimum side effects. This is very important in drugs that people may be taking for their whole lives.

The main ways that you can help reduce your own blood pressure are as follows:

Being more than your ideal weight increases your blood pressure whoever you are and if you have a tendency to high blood pressure than it can mean the difference between lifelong tablets or not! You might be surprised at how low your ideal weight is. You can work it out roughly if you measure your height in centimetres, multiply this by 25 and then take the square root of the result. This will tell you how much you should weigh in Kilograms. Try it. I think you will be surprised. The good news is that losing the extra weight helps bring the blood pressure down

Salt added to food is a very potent force in pushing some people's blood pressure up. We all eat too much salt and, if you have high blood pressure, cutting salt out altogether can make a big difference. This means not adding it to cooking as well as not sprinkling it on your food and you should watch out for tinned or processed food, which often has an awful lot of hidden salt in it. (Incidentally we don't recommend 'Lo Salt' this can be dangerous for some people and doesn't help very much anyway)

Smoking tobacco, quite apart from causing cancer and heart disease, also pushes the blood pressure up; enough said!

Research has shown that a minimum of an hour exercise a week's, exercise that raises your heart beat and gets you out of breath, can significantly lower your blood pressure. Quite apart from making you feel better in general. This can be any sort of exercise and doesn't have to be frantic, but it must be stretching you a bit. Walking the dog doesn't count if the only one getting out of breath is your dog!

Research again shows that a small quantity of alcohol is actually good for you. But, and this is a big but, if you regularly drink more than the recommended safe weekly limits you risk increasing your blood pressure. The recommended safe limits are 28units of alcohol per week for men and 21 units per week for women. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to a small glass of wine or half a pint of weak beer.

High blood pressure is a common illness (something like 1 in 4 people will suffer from it at some stage in their lives), it doesn't cause any symptoms and you won't know you've got it if it isn't checked.

Despite not making you feel ill it has serious consequences for your long-term health; for instance the majority of strokes and a good number of all heart attacks are caused by it.

If you treat the blood pressure and bring it down you can extend you lifespan by years.

There are a lot of ways that you can help bring your blood pressure down or help stop it going up, and most of these will make you feel better and healthier in themselves.

If you are worried about your blood pressure, or you want to have it checked you can come and see one of the Doctors or our Nurse at any time and we would be happy to check it for you.

Dr Knott and all of the Healthcare Team at Boughton Surgery

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.