Making Sense of Blood Pressure

By: Lynsey McIlwraith. Published: 28 May, 19
What exactly is blood pressure?

To ensure that your body is provided with oxygen and energy blood is pumped around your body via arteries, capillaries and veins.

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure within your arteries. When your blood circulates around your body it pushes against the side of your arteries. This pressure is created by the pumping action of the heart, the size and stretchiness of your blood vessels and the thickness of your blood (Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, 2014).

How is my blood pressure measured?

Your blood pressure may be measured using a sphygmomanometer (sphyg). This involves wrapping a cuff around your upper arm, inflating, then deflating the cuff. You will find that a stethoscope is used to hear the main artery pulse while the readings are observed.

An electronic device may be used which automatically inflates and deflates to measure your blood pressure.

What do the numbers mean?

You may hear the words millimeters of mercury during your visit (mmHg), this is how your blood pressure is measured. You will find that your blood pressure is recorded as two readings. The higher reading, known as the systolic pressure, is when the heart contracts and forces blood into the arteries. The lower reading, known as the diastolic pressure, is when the heart relaxes between beats.

How do I know if my blood pressure is normal?

Although some sources may vary slightly, the consensus is that the ideal blood pressure should be around 120/80mmHg.

You should aim to keep your blood pressure close to the target range of 140/90mmHg.

Additional conditions such as diabetes have an impact on the target range. If you are diabetic your target range is 130/80mmHg.

As you age your target range also changes. If you are above 80 years of age, your target range is slightly higher at 150/90mmHg.

Your risk of stroke and heart disease is lower if you can keep your blood pressure within this range.

Your blood pressure is considered low if the reading is less than 90/60mmHg.
(Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, 2014).

What does it mean if my blood pressure is above the target range?

If your blood pressure is consistently above the target range then you will likely be told that you have high blood pressure (hypertension). As mentioned above, having blood pressure above the target range can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease as this higher pressure within your arteries can put extra strain on your heart. Research has also found a link between high blood pressure and kidney and heart disease (Blood Pressure Association, 2019).

What can I do about high blood pressure (hypertension)?

There are a few lifestyle changes that you can make that can help to lower your blood pressure:
⦁ Eating less salt can have a positive impact. You may find it useful to look at packaging prior to making a food purchase to determine the level of salt within the food. Avoiding adding extra salt to your food and choosing lower salt options when purchasing food are all positive changes.
⦁ Maintaining a healthy weight by making healthy food choices and exercising can also have a positive impact on your blood pressure.
⦁ Consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol (14 units) can eventually increase your blood pressure. Sticking within the recommended guidelines can help maintain your blood pressure within the target range.
⦁ As previously mentioned, exercise can also have a postive impact on your blood pressure. Guidelines suggest that you should partake in moderate activity lasting 30 minutes five days out of 7. Activites such as swimming, brisk walking, tennis, dancing and cycling can all help lower your blood pressure and ensure you remain within the appropriate target range.
(Blood Pressure Association, 2019)