The highs and lows of blood pressure

September 23, 2019| Health and Wellbeing /

Getting your blood pressure checked is one of the best things you can do for your health because high blood pressure can cause serious problems without any obvious warning signs.

When doctors talk about blood pressure, they’re referring to the pressure of blood in your arteries as it’s being pumped around your body by your heart. Many things can change your blood pressure as it adapts to your body’s needs at any given moment. For example, standing or lying down can change it, as well as stress and how hydrated you are. So if you get an abnormal reading, sometimes your doctor will measure it again on several occasions to check for patterns over time. Epworth specialists often perform 24 hour monitoring to get an accurate reading of fluctuations over a day.
Dr Andris Ellims a cardiologist of Victoria Heart who practices at Epworth Richmond and Epworth Freemasons explains:

To provide an accurate assessment of your blood pressure, multiple blood pressure readings are necessary. A 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitor or multiple readings taken by a home blood pressure monitor can provide a more precise evaluation of your true blood pressure
— Dr Andris Ellims, Cardiologist, Epworth HealthCare

So how is blood pressure measured and what is normal?

When a health professional measures your blood pressure they are seeking two numbers such as 120/80. The top number is called systole and refers to the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps blood out during each beat. The second number is called diastole and it’s the pressure when the heart relaxes and refills with blood. This overall measurement is called diastolic blood pressure and both numbers are units called millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

Your doctor can tell you what is an optimal blood pressure for you, but here is a guide:

  • A reading under or around 120/80 mmHg is optimal

  • Readings above 120/80 but less than 130/80 are elevated

  • Anything over 130/80 is high (hypertension)

Generally a lower blood pressure is associated with a better cardiovascular prognosis, however dizziness (especially upon standing) can occur if the blood pressure is too low.

Why is high blood pressure a problem?

Persistent high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked by a doctor.

Can you prevent and treat high blood pressure?

Yes. The good news is healthy lifestyle choices can make a difference. The following are known to prevent and help treat high blood pressure:

  • Eating five serves of vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day

  • Reducing salt consumption to 6 grams (1 teaspoon a day) to prevent high blood pressure or 4 grams a day (about ½ teaspoon a day) if you have high blood pressure

  • Thirty minutes of activity such as brisk walking every day

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. You can check your body mass index here for a guide

  • Limiting alcohol consumption

  • Not smoking

But sometimes these things are not enough. Many people are prescribed medications known as anti-hypertensives to help reduce their blood pressure. Your doctor can guide you on the pros and cons of all of the medications available.

If your GP thinks you could benefit from seeing a cardiologist to manage your blood pressure, ask for a referral to an Epworth specialist. You can locate a cardiologist using our ‘find a doctor’ page here.



Epworth

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