Here's why you should be testing your blood pressure regularly
Blood pressure testing is simple, easy and convenient. You can get a blood pressure check at your GP surgery and certain pharmacies, or you could even purchase a monitor for yourself at home.
Having your own blood pressure monitor can be life-saving, especially if you suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure). That's why we’ve written this helpful guide to answer all your questions on how blood pressure testing works and why it’s so important.
What happens if there’s a problem with your blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the measure of strength with which your blood pushes on the side of your arteries as it’s being pumped around the body. Without it, oxygen wouldn’t be pushed around our circulatory system and our essential organs wouldn’t be able to function.
Blood pressure usually fluctuates naturally within a normal range, but something could be wrong if your levels are too high or too low.
Hypertension refers to blood pressure that is consistently too high. Whilst there isn’t always a specific cause, you may be more at risk if you are overweight, inactive, over 65, you smoke or drink too much alcohol or you have an unhealthy diet.
You're also more likely to get hypertension if you have a family history of the condition or if you're of black African or black Caribbean descent. According to the NHS, it’s estimated that around a third of adults in the UK have high blood pressure.
If left untreated, it can increase your risk of life-threatening problems such as:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Aortic aneurysm
- Kidney disease
- Vascular dementia
Unfortunately, there aren’t any noticeable symptoms, so many people won’t realise they’re at risk. This is why it’s so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly, particularly if you’re over 40.
Hypotension (low blood pressure) isn’t typically as serious as high blood pressure.
Low blood pressure doesn’t always show symptoms, but can cause:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Feeling sick
- Blurred vision
- Generally feeling weak
Hypotension can occur for many reasons including dehydration, stress, pregnancy, certain medications or loss of blood (due to blood donation, for example). Whilst low blood pressure isn’t usually anything to worry about, if you’re experiencing recurring symptoms like dizziness and fainting, you should see your GP for advice.
Who needs to check their blood pressure regularly?
Many people with high blood pressure don’t even realise it, meaning they’re unknowingly at risk of major health problems. As it’s unlikely you'd show any symptoms, the only way to find out if you’ve got high blood pressure is with testing.
If you’re under 40, it’s always a good idea to check your blood pressure if you’re overweight, you smoke, or have any other health problems that make hypertension more likely. If you’re over 40, you should regularly get a blood pressure check every five years as part of your NHS Health Check.
If you’ve got high blood pressure or any of the risk factors that cause it, it may be a good idea to have a blood pressure monitor on hand at home.
How to measure your blood pressure
Measuring your blood pressure at home is an easy, speedy process. Your blood pressure monitor should come with a leaflet that you can use for specific instructions, but there are some general steps we can all follow when using any monitor.
Place the arm cuff just above your elbow, making sure you’re following the instructions on where exactly it needs to be placed - usually this is about 2cm above your elbow. During the test, the cuff will squeeze your arm to restrict blood flow - this might feel a bit uncomfortable but it shouldn’t hurt and it only lasts a few seconds.
Keep as still as possible and try to stay relaxed - anxiety or discomfort may raise your blood pressure temporarily and lead to an inaccurate reading. For your first reading, measure your blood pressure in both arms to record two different readings - after that, continue to use the arm that gave you the higher reading.
Each time you take a reading, take two or three and record the average to show to your doctor. Try not to worry about small changes in your blood pressure and don’t check it too often, as this may cause you to worry unnecessarily.
Understanding your blood pressure readings
Your blood pressure reading will show a top number and a bottom number. The top number is your systolic blood pressure, the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats and pumps blood around your body. The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure, the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between each beat.
Your reading will be measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) - the ideal blood pressure reading is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If your reading is 140/90mmHg or over, your doctor will likely diagnose you with hypertension and you may be prescribed medicines to lower your blood pressure.
If your reading is somewhere between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg, your blood pressure is slightly higher than it should be and you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes to avoid developing hypertension. If your reading is lower than 90/60mmHg, your blood pressure may be low.
How to lower your blood pressure
If your blood pressure is high and you’re at risk of developing hypertension, or perhaps you’ve already been diagnosed, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to bring your levels down.
One of the most important things to do is watch your weight, as blood pressure usually increases as your weight increases. It’s also been proven that regular exercise can lower your blood pressure, as well as a diet low in sodium and saturated fat. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol both raise your blood pressure, so you might want to quit or cut down on these habits.
You can find more information from the NHS about preventing hypertension here.
As we’ve learned, getting your blood pressure tested regularly could save your life in the long run.
Hypertension is a growing problem here in the UK and more than five million people in England alone are undiagnosed. It’s also one of the most preventable and treatable conditions, but without regular testing, you could be putting yourself at risk unknowingly.
That’s why it’s so important that keep track of your blood pressure. For more information, visit Blood Pressure UK.