Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.

AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about the importance of keeping an eye on your blood pressure.

Know Your Numbers Week, the nation’s largest annual blood pressure testing and awareness event was a timely reminder to us all of our need to know our blood pressure numbers and to take the necessary action to reach and maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Each year 125,000 adults in the UK have a heart attack or stroke in which high blood pressure is a key factor - that’s a preventable stroke or heart attack every 4 minutes. More than 5 million people don’t even know they have high blood pressure and this is why it is called ‘the silent killer’.

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. To find out your blood pressure, two measurements are recorded during a single heartbeat:

* the level of pressure when your heart pumps blood through your arteries and around your body (systolic pressure): this is when the pressure is highest, and

* the level of pressure when your heart is resting before it pumps again (diastolic pressure): this is when the pressure is lowest.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The readings are given as two numbers or levels. The systolic reading is first, followed by the diastolic reading. For example, if your systolic reading is 120mmHg and your diastolic reading is 80mmHg, your blood pressure is 120 over 80. This is commonly written as 120/80.

Blood pressure can be high, normal or low. If you consistently have a reading of 140/90 or higher, you may have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases your risk of developing some health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the healthier you are. As a general guide, the ideal blood pressure for a young healthy adult is 120/80 or lower. However, it’s possible to have abnormally low blood pressure

People with a reading of around 90/60 or lower are generally considered to have low blood pressure. For some people with low blood pressure, there may be an underlying cause that could need treatment.

At least one-quarter of adults have high blood pressure. More than half of them are over 60, but many are younger. Could you be one of them? The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. Health professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and GPs can check your blood pressure with a simple test.

So, let’s make sure we all know our numbers and get our blood pressure checked today. For more information go to http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Blood-pressure-(high)/Pages/Introduction.aspx