Author: Dr Amanda Gillies

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Tuesday, April 10th, 2007 at 1:11 pm
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Health

The Highs and Lows of Blood Pressure

This month we take a look at blood pressure, what the figures mean and what steps we can take to keep ours healthy.

What is Blood Pressure?
In brief, blood pressure is the physical force that our blood exerts as it travels along in our blood vessels. The actual numbers given to us by a doctor or nurse during a health check refer to the pressure, in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), within the large arteries that transport blood to everywhere in our bodies except the lungs. This is called the systemic arterial blood pressure.

An average healthy resting blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg, although there can be large variations around this figure. 120 in this example is the systolic pressure – or peak pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts – and 80 is the diastolic pressure – or the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes again. Blood pressure readings can vary considerably within an individual according to, for example, the time of day (i.e. usually lower when you first get up), whether you have eaten, your stress levels and exercise.

High Blood Pressure or Hypertension
However, according to The British Hypertension Society guidelines, if the reading is more than 140/90 then you are considered to have hypertension and steps must be taken to reduce it, including taking medication. High blood pressure can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and eye damage.

The risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) as a result of high blood pressure is related to both the systolic and diastolic pressures (http://www.heartstats.org/). Each 20mmHg increase in the systolic pressure and/or 10mmHg increase in the diastolic blood pressure doubles the risk of death from heart disease.

2004 statistics for Scotland indicate that 10,778 deaths were directly due to CHD. Furthermore, blood pressure levels in Scotland tend to be generally high, with 33% of both men and women having a blood pressure in excess of 140/90. Prevalence of hypertension tends to increase with age and, according to The British Heart Foundation, around 60% of people with high blood pressure are not receiving treatment.

Lifestyle changes you can make to keep you blood pressure lower:
1) Have your blood pressure reading taken regularly to know what it is.
2) Eat less salt.
3) Eat more fruit and vegetables.
4) Aim to have at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
5) Drink less alcohol.
6) Keep your weight healthy.
7) Have your cholesterol levels checked and regulated if they are high.

Low blood pressure, or hypotension

This can be just as serious as high blood pressure but in itself is not usually unhealthy unless an individual experiences the symptoms associated with it. Insufficient blood supply to the brain can cause dizziness and fainting. This symptom can manifest itself when you stand for extended periods, since the blood settles in lower body vessels in your body and this reduces blood pressure, or when changing position from sitting or lying to standing. Just like hypertension, low blood pressure can lead to strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure, since lack of an adequate blood supply in our vital organs means they will not be able to function normally and can cause serious permanent damage.

Unlike hypertension, which is diagnosed using numbers alone, hypotension is identified by the symptoms that go with it. Athletes, for example, may have blood pressure as low as 90/50, have no signs of hypotension and be extremely healthy – their training simply means that their bodies work more efficiently – while someone whose normal blood pressure is 130/80 may have problems if it drops to 100/60.

In general, people with lower blood pressure who do not suffer with the symptoms of hypotension, e.g. those who exercise regularly, have an ideal weight and do not smoke, have a significantly lower risk of strokes, heart disease and kidney failure. Lower blood pressure is generally desirable, as long as it is not low enough to cause any damage.

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Garlic also helps to promote normal cholesterol levels and is widely recognised for its ability to help maintain a healthy heart. Maintaining normal cholesterol levels also prevents the clogging of arteries, which helps maintain good circulation. Garlic is also known to have anti-oxidant properties, and so can help to protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals.

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