Blood pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into your arteries (tubes) that carry blood from your heart to your brain and the rest of your body. 

High blood pressure – or hypertension – is a leading cause of strokes and heart attacks and affects more than one in four adults in England.

Low blood pressure (hypotension) is less common. Some medicines can cause low blood pressure as a side effect. It can also be caused by a number of underlying conditions, including heart failure and dehydration.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is given as two readings:

  • systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart pushes blood out
  • diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats.

As a general guide:

  • ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
  • high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
  • low blood pressure is considered to be below 90/60mmHg. 

Check your blood pressure reading on the NHS website.

It's not always clear what causes high blood pressure, but there are things that can increase your risk. You might be more at risk if you:

  • are overweight
  • eat too much salt and do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • do not do enough exercise
  • drink too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
  • smoke
  • have a lot of stress
  • are over 65 years old
  • have a relative with high blood pressure
  • are of black African or Black Caribbean descent
  • live in a deprived area.

Doctors can help you keep your blood pressure to a safe level with medication and lifestyle changes. 

Most people don't know they have high blood pressure because there aren't obvious symptoms. That's why it's so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.

Left untreated, high blood pressure can increase your risk of developing a number of serious long-term health conditions, such as:

  • heart disease
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • heart failure
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • aortic aneurysms
  • kidney disease
  • vascular dementia.

Making healthy lifestyle changes can sometimes help reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure and help lower your blood pressure if it is already high.

Healthy diet 
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain good health and manage your blood pressure. 

Regular physical activity is associated with lower blood pressure and can be beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. Physical exercise is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle and even moderate amounts of physical activity are good for your health.

Manage your weight
Keeping to a healthy weight can also help manage your blood pressure. You can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to check whether you’re a healthy weight. Find support to help lose weight at Better Health

Limit your alcohol intake
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure by increasing your heart rate. To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. Try these simple tips to help you cut down

Stop smoking
Smoking, like high blood pressure, will cause your arteries to narrow. This can increase your blood pressure. If your arteries get blocked it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Stopping smoking is also one of the best things you can do for your health.

Find information about lifestyle services in Kent and Medway.

Living with hypertension: Cecilia's Story

Knowing that you may have high blood pressure and taking steps to manage it could save your life.

Find out where to get your blood pressure checked in Kent and Medway.

Blood Pressure UK provides information in 32 languages. Find translated blood pressure information on their website.

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