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What is Blood Pressure and What Do The Numbers Mean?

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body.

Blood pressure is usually shown as two numbers with one over the other e.g. 120 over 80. The first number (120) is systolic blood pressure – the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and pushes blood out, and the second is diastolic (80) – the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting and refilling with blood between beats.

Both numbers are important and should be monitored.

Factors that can impact your blood pressure

  • If you have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Your age
  • Being of African or Caribbean origin
  • Your diet e.g. eating too much salt and caffeine, drinking alcohol regularly
  • Being overweight
  • Low activity levels
  • Smoking
  • Long-term sleep deprivation
  • Stress levels
  • Underlying health conditions

How to check your blood pressure

To check your blood pressure, you can either visit a GP, go to your local pharmacy, buy a monitor so that you can measure it at home, or if you are a member of a Nuffield Health gym your blood pressure will be taken as part of your Health MOT.

If you choose to check your blood pressure at home, there are a number of digital monitors available to buy that are easy to use and have varying sized cuffs that are either positioned on your upper arm or wrist.

What do the numbers mean?

  • High blood pressure is considered to be 140 over 90 or higher
  • Elevated is 130 to 139 over 85 to 89
  • Normal blood pressure is considered to be less than 130 over less than 85
  • Low blood pressure is less than 90 over less than 60

Normal blood pressure

Having normal blood pressure is ideal, but it is still recommended to monitor it frequently as it can increase if you don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet and can also change with age and life’s stresses and strains.

Elevated blood pressure

An elevated blood pressure may be reduced by making some simple lifestyle changes. Taking no action could see it increase to more dangerous levels, so it’s important to take steps to reduce your blood pressure to normal levels now. These include:

You should also make an appointment to see a GP to get a better understanding of how high blood pressure is affecting your health.

High blood pressure

Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, significantly increases your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and also strokes. If either or both of your systolic or diastolic blood pressure measures fall into this range, you should see a GP as soon as possible. They may prescribe medication and will advise you on the lifestyle choices you need to take to lower your levels.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

Most people with high blood pressure, even at dangerous levels, have no symptoms it is therefore important that you have regular checks.

Low blood pressure

If your blood pressure falls below 90/60 your body may not be getting enough oxygenated blood. If you get a low result regularly you should talk to a GP.

Things you can do to help bring your blood pressure up to a normal level include:

  • Make sure you eat the right amount of food for your height, weight and gender
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Keep active
  • Drink a enough water, approximately 6–8 glasses a day
  • Check any medications you are taking with a health professional

Symptoms of low blood pressure

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Feeling sick
  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling weak
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

Consult a GP if you experience any of the above symptoms.

Other considerations

  • Pre-existing conditions, including chronic diseases, may lower the blood pressure ranges outlined above. For example, a normal range for diabetics is >130/>85, anything above these numbers falls into the red zone.
  • Blood pressure guides may be lower for some ethnic groups, particularly South Asians. Consult your GP if you are unsure about what normal BP is for you.
  • Accurate blood pressure readings are dependent on you being well hydrated at the time of the reading. You are adequately hydrated when your urine is clear.