Blood Pressure: Why we all need the lowdown


Q: How do I know if I have high blood pressure? I am 45 and healthy, if a bit overweight. If it’s high, what happens next?

A: When your heart beats, it pumps blood round the body carrying nutrients and oxygen. As the blood moves, it pushes against the walls of the blood vessels. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure (BP ). High BP puts extra strain on your arteries and heart, which is a major cause of heart attacks and the key cause of strokes. ‘But it’s easy to treat and treatment saves lives,’ according to Professor Gareth Beevers from Blood Pressure UK.

The only way to know if you have high BP is to have it measured because there are no symptoms until a late stage. Adults should have a BP check at least every five years. Go to your GP, or, during Know Your Numbers week, which starts tomorrow, Blood Pressure UK is offering screening in supermarkets, shops and public buildings nationwide; visit for locations. (Anyone with risk factors or existing hypertension should have more frequent checks.)

A BP reading consists of two numbers, eg, 120/80. The first number is systolic BP , which is the highest level your BP reaches when your heart beats. The second is diastolic BP, the lowest level it reaches as your heart relaxes between beats.

It is important to keep BP low. The lower it is, the less the risk of heart attack or stroke. BP persistently over 140/90 is diagnosed as hypertension.

A single reading is not reliable. BP rises in response to any anxiety, including having your BP checked. Prof Beevers explains: ‘About 30 per cent of otherwise fit 40-year-olds will measure 140/95 at first reading. But after a short rest in a quiet room, about half have lower readings. The others should be rechecked at a second visit when they are less anxious.’

High-risk groups include people who are overweight, women who have had pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, older people, diabetics, those with kidney disease, a family history of premature heart attack or stroke, or a previous episode.

The first line of treatment for BP between 140/90 and 160/95 is usually diet and exercise. ‘Simple dietary modifications – less salt and animal fats and more fruit and vegetables – lower BP , thus avoiding or minimising drug treatment,’ says Professor Beevers. Over 160/95, antihypertensive drugs are usually recommended.

Everyone with BP over 140/90 is encouraged to buy their own home monitor. Blood Pressure UK gives a list of approved upper-arm monitors on its website (see above).

Our testers voted Boots Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor the most user-friendly. ‘We took readings at intervals. It’s simple to use and the memory function means you can scroll through readings to look for any pattern,’ said one colleague. £40.80,

THE TRUTH ABOUT…A Good Breakfast

Children and adults need a protein-rich breakfast to fuel body and brain. Research shows it makes people less likely to snack on sugary, fatty foods.

  • Choose eggs (with grilled bacon and tomatoes), or fish (smoked haddock, salmon, kippers), plain yoghurt and blueberries, or fruit salad, nuts and seeds.
  • Skip breakfast cereals, which are high GI (glycaemic index).
  • Swap to oat or spelt porridge and unsweetened muesli, which are much more nutritious and give you a sustained energy release. Eat them with
    milk, yoghurt and fruit, or sweetened with a little honey.
  • Drink lots of fluid, preferably water, milk or fresh juice. By Professor Charles Clark, author of Nibble Gobble Munch, a pop-up book for children (£14.99,

Website of the week:

With recent research showing that a lack of exercise causes as many deaths as smoking, why not pull on your hiking boots (good footwear is essential) and get out there? Autumn is the perfect time for long walks and, hopefully, it will be a season of crisp, clear sunlit days. Joining the Ramblers offers a community of more than 115,000 members, 38,000 guided walks nationwide for different ages and stages, plus lots of information. Subscription is from £31 a year.

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