What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of your arteries and veins. It is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

it is important to have your blood pressure checked

A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. The first represents the pressure during each heartbeat, which should be between 90 and 120 mmHg. The second is the pressure between heartbeats, which should be between 60 and 80 mmHg.

How do I know if my blood pressure is too high or too low?

High blood pressure doesn’t have any obvious symptoms, so it is important to have your blood pressure checked to discover whether you have the condition. The NHS recommends that the over-40s have their blood pressure checked every five years. People with a high risk of developing the condition should have an annual check-up.

You can ask your GP to check your blood pressure. Some high street chemists and charities also offer this as a free service, or sell home-check kits. People aged 40-74 should go along for an NHS Health Check every five years.

If your blood pressure reading comes back as high, you may be asked to wear a monitor for a day to confirm the diagnosis.

Some people with low blood pressure don’t show any signs of the condition, while others experience symptoms such as fainting, dizzy spells and feelings of weakness. Your GP will be able to confirm the diagnosis and offer suggestions on coping with the condition.

How can I treat blood pressure issues?

Low blood pressure does not usually require prescription drugs or other medical interventions. It can be managed through simple lifestyle changes, such as switching medications, drinking more water, standing up more slowly and improving posture.

High blood pressure can also be treated through lifestyle changes. People with severe hypertension may also be offered medication.

  • A healthy diet helps to reduce blood pressure. Cutting consumption of salt and alcohol is key.
  • Studies have shown that including foods that contain the right nutrients in your diet, such as antioxidants and potassium, can reduce blood pressure.
  • A combination of alpha blockers, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers might be prescribed to open up the blood vessels and slow the heartbeat.
  • Diuretics, which expel salt and water from the body, are often prescribed to reduce blood pressure.
  • Exercise prevents and lowers high blood pressure. It also tackles one of the key causes of hypertension by helping people to lose weight.

Did you know...

  1. Dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure, probably because of the exercise they get from daily walks and the calming effects of stroking a pet.
  2. Most forms of exercise will help to lower your blood pressure, but lifting weights can actually increase it. Resolve this by using less weight but doing more repetitions. Remember to breathe properly, too!
  3. High blood pressure often has no obvious symptoms, so about a third of people with high blood pressure do not know that they have it.
  4. We are told that too much salt is bad for your heart, but getting less than 1.8 grams per day can actually elevate your blood pressure.
  5. Your blood pressure can vary by arm. If the difference is significant, this can indicate a cardiovascular problem.

Help and support

Keeping your blood pressure in check is an important step towards living a longer, healthier life. For information or assistance, you can contact your local GP, or try:

  • Blood Pressure UK, the country's only charity dedicated to this issue.
  • The British Heart Foundation, which offers information and funds research into cardiovascular health.

Understanding blood pressure problems

High blood pressure (hypertension)

Approximately 30 per cent of people in the UK have high blood pressure (hypertension), but the vast majority are not being treated.

The higher your blood pressure is above the healthy range, the greater the risk to your health. People with hypertension are three times more likely to develop heart disease or suffer from a stroke, and are twice as likely to die from these conditions. If left untreated, high blood pressure can damage the heart, brain and kidneys.

Hypertension is linked to:

  • low levels of exercise
  • poor diet
  • being overweight or obese
  • excessive drinking
  • smoking
  • stress
  • genetics/family history of hypertension
  • some health issues, including previous strokes and heart attacks

Low blood pressure (hypotension)

Low blood pressure (hypotension) is a less common condition. Some people have naturally low blood pressure, which is usually not a problem.

Hypotension can also be caused by pregnancy, natural ageing, and health conditions including heart failure. It is a side effect of some medications.