With almost 33% of adult Australians suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension) it’s time to spread some knowledge about this silent killer.
When the heart pumps blood around the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients, the blood pushes against the sides of our vessels. This pressure is known as blood pressure. If this pressure is too high it means there is extra strain on your arteries and heart leading to a number of life threatening medical illnesses such as stroke or heart attacks.
But who is typically affected? When we look at the risk factors for high blood pressure we can divide this into two categories; modifiable and non-modifiable causes.
Modifiable factors are things that we can change and have control over. These include our weight, salt intake, exercise, alcohol intake and consumption of fruit and vegetables. In Australia it is recommended to have a daily average of 4g salt per day, that’s less than a teaspoon. There are often hidden salts in bread, ready-made meats and cereals so be sure to look at nutritional labels.
Alcohol should be limited to no more than 2 drinks per day and exercise should be undertaken for 30 minutes at least 5 days in a week.
Non-modifiable factors are things that we can’t change, this includes ethnicity (Africans or South Asians are at a higher risk), family history of high blood pressure, or other medical problems such as kidney disease or diabetes.
Aside from maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to know what your resting blood pressure sits at. Blood pressure can be checked with your General Practitioner or at your local pharmacy, blood pressure machines are also available to purchase.
But how is blood pressure taken? With technology advancing, taking your own reading is as simple as pressing a button. If you’re checking your own blood pressure, check it at rest. Exercise, caffeine, smoking and even going to the toilet can raise blood pressure so wait at least 30 minutes after. Sit in an upright position and place the cuff around your upper arm, avoiding any clothing, keep your feet uncrossed and sit quietly whilst the cuff inflates. Once you have your reading, record this and take it to your doctor if needed.
Interpreting the numbers can be confusing. There are two numbers on your machine, the top corresponds to the systolic pressure, this is the highest level blood pressure reaches when the heart beats. The bottom corresponds to the diastolic pressure, this is the lowest level the blood pressure reaches when the heart is relaxing. Both numbers are important. Having an elevated top or bottom number could still indicate high blood pressure.
Your target blood pressure will depend on a number of factors, such as your age, medication you’re taking or any medical conditions, your doctor will be able to give you an individual target.
Generally speaking, aim for a blood pressure of around 90–120 systolic over 60-80 diastolic, research has shown that having these values reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
If your blood pressure is 120–140 over 80–90 your blood pressure is elevated and you are at risk of developing hypertension. It is important to take active steps to reduce it, your doctor will be able to guide you on this but it could include diet modification or exercise.
If your blood pressure is consistently over 140/90 then you do have hypertension. It is important to discuss this with your doctor to decide on the best management, this may include taking a daily medication.
Having high blood pressure may not always cause symptoms, which is why it is often called the silent killer. Some patients however do report symptoms, these could include, headaches or vision problems. It is imperative to always seek medical advice if you experience these symptoms.
Unless your doctor has suggested otherwise, it is important to have your blood pressure checked on a 6 month to yearly basis, this will ensure that your ticker is ticking along nicely.
Remember the best prevention from suffering high blood pressure is to lead an active and healthy lifestyle, drinking alcohol in moderation and maintaining regular physical activity.