1. What is high blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is the pressure of the blood pumping round your body. It is measured with a blood pressure checker by means of two values: the systolic blood pressure and the disystolic blood pressure. As your heart beats, it contracts and then relaxes in rhythm. Your blood pressure will be different when your heart is contracting compared to when it is relaxed. Your blood pressure when your heart is contracted is called the systolic blood pressure and your blood pressure when your heart is relaxed is called the disystolic blood pressure. Generally, the systolic blood pressure is higher than the disystolic blood pressure. A human being’s overall blood pressure is thus expressed as ‘systolic pressure/disystolic pressure’. The unit used is Hg mm. Hg is the chemical symbol of mercury, deriving from the times when mercury was used ubiquitously in pressure metres (such as barometers) and thermometers. Mercury has a high density, and so it will rise up visibly when atmospheric pressure or heat rises. The ‘mm’ part of this measurement relates to the fact that measurements of pressure traditionally were performed by measuring how many milimetres the blob of mercury had moved up the scale of the thermometer or barometer. If your systolic pressure is 130, for instance, and your disystolic pressure is 90, this will be expressed as ‘130/90 Hg’.
2. What causes high blood pressure?
There are several different causes of high blood pressure. Some of them are genetic whilst others are lifestyle related. Certain medications can also raise your blood pressure. Usually, high blood pressure is caused by a narrowing of the arteries (for example, due to a build up of fat or other matter) which means that the blood exerts more force on the arterial walls as it squeezes through, causining a higher pressure environment inside the arteries. Here is an overview of some of the key causes of high blood pressure:
- A lack of exercise
- A diet high in saturated fat
- A high cholesterol diet
- A diet high in salt
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine
- Certain prescription medications (for example, some steroids and anti-inflammatories and the combined contraceptive pill)
- Certain recreational drugs, including cocaine
- Kidney disease and kidney infections
- Sleep apnoea
- Autoimmune diseases such as lupus
Some people are also quite simply born with narrower blood vessels, or with other genetic predispositions to high blood pressure. For instance, people with Afro Caribbean heritage tend to be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, especially later in life. If you suffer from any of the conditions listed above, or if any of the other points on the list apply to you, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about your blood pressure. They will be able to measure your blood pressure quickly and easily using a painless blood pressure cuff which fits like a sleeve around your upper arm. If your blood pressure is found to be high, your doctor will be able to advise you about the best way to manage and reduce it.
3. High blood pressure symptoms
The symptoms of higher than normal blood pressure can be scary and unpleasant. They can vary in intensity, depending on how high your blood pressure is. If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, it could be the case that you have high blood pressure:
- Shortness of breath
- A pounding feeling in your ears, your chest, or your neck
- Pain in your chest
- Blood appearing in your urine
- Problems with vision
- A severe headache
- An irregular heartbeat
- Excessive tiredness or fatigue
- A feeling of confusion
All of the symptoms listed above can also be caused by numerous other types of conditions. Nevertheless, if you experience any of the symptoms on this list, it is crucial to pay a visit to your doctor sooner rather than later. They will be able to tell you whether or not the symptoms are caused by high blood pressure, and if this is the case, they will also be able to help you to reduce your blood pressure.
Sometimes, your blood pressure can rise only temporarily and these high blood pressure symptoms may flare up and then disappear after a few days or weeks. For example, periods of stress can increase your blood pressure and cause you to feel tired and short of breath, but once you have taken some time to relax and recuperate your blood pressure should naturally fall back down to a healthy level. If your blood pressure is raised for a long period of time, however, it can put you at risk of some serious ailments, including heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms in the aorta or brain, and various diseases of the kidney. High blood pressure can also be a cause of debilitating heart disease.
High blood pressure can occur at any time in your life, and people of all ages can experience these symptoms. However, it tends to become more of a problem in older people. This is firstly due to the fact that older people tend to have more cumulative health problems that negatively impact on their blood pressure, and also due to the fact that older people tend to exercise less. Nevertheless, developing high blood pressure is never a foregone conclusion: there are steps that you can take to manage it right now.
4. The blood pressure range
Normal blood pressure has a systolic reading of less that 120 and a disystolic reading of less than 80. If you are at risk of developing high blood pressure (a condition known as prehypertension), you will have a systolic reading between 120 and 139 and a disystolic reading of 80-89. If you suffer from high blood pressure, you will have a systolic reading of over 40 and a disystolic reading over over 90. Thus, the person in the example in the first paragraph of this article who had a blood pressure reading of 130/90 Hg is suffering from high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. Hypertension is often further differentiated by medical professionals by whether or not the systolic reading is more than 160. If this is the case, that patient’s blood pressure is especially dangerously high, and urgent medical attention is required.
Your doctor will be able to take your blood pressure very quickly in the surgery. You can also purchase your own blood pressure checker for taking blood pressure readings at home. Make sure that you know how to use it properly before you start monitoring your own blood pressure. You can purchase a wearable blood pressure monitor which looks similar to a wrist watch, with a digital display that tells you the pressure of your blood at all times. Alternatively, you can opt for the blood pressure cuff that is used in doctors’ surgeries. Many wearable smart watches come with blood pressure monitors ready installed in them.
5. How to lower blood pressure
Lowering your blood pressure can be done by isolating the cause of your high blood pressure and then taking action to deal with it. If the cause is stress, for instance, you might wish to take a couple of weeks to take care of yourself, get some counselling, or just relax more. If the cause is medication that you have been taking, your doctor may advise you to stop taking that medication, or to switch to a new type of medication. Let’s divide the ways to lower blood pressure into two broad groups: changes to your lifestyle and the use of pharmaceuticals.
- Lifestyle changes: getting enough sleep, and learning to manage stress will be beneficial for your blood pressure levels. Giving up smoking, drinking less caffeine and alcohol, and exercising more will also tend to result in reduced blood pressure levels. Eating a diet that is lower in salt, cholesterol and saturated fat will keep your arteries nice and elastic and free of the fatty deposits that can narrow them.
- Medication that works to reduce blood pressure: there are plenty of pharmaceuticals that reduce your blood pressure, including renin inhibiitors, calcium channel inhibitors, and beta blockers. Always consult your doctor before taking any kind of medication, as all of these medicines can come with side effects.
Getting treatment for underlying causes of high blood pressure, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and sclerosis will also help to reduce your blood pressure readings.
High blood pressure (HBP) can lead to health complications like heart attacks and stroke. It’s a common health issue and often has no evident symptoms. Low blood pressure can also be dangerous. If you know you have low or high blood pressure or are susceptible to it due to genetics, it’s a good idea to monitor your blood pressure. This can be done at home by purchasing a blood pressure monitor. It’s important to know which one is best for you, how to use it and when to use it.
6. Why use a home blood pressure monitor
There are many people who can benefit from using a monitor at home. The most obvious are those who have been diagnosed with HBP by a doctor. If they have started treatments, the home monitors can determine if the medication or techniques are working to lower their blood pressure. If you are suspicious your blood pressure may be abnormal, a home blood pressure checker helps you monitor this to see if you need to see a doctor. Pregnant woman can use them to see if they are developing preeclampsia or hypertension. Even those with low blood pressure can find home monitors useful for similar reasons, like keeping track.
It’s also convenient to have a monitor at home as people are not always able to get to the doctor often enough to stay on top of their health. This is true for those with certain health conditions that require them to keep track of their blood pressure, including diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease. Other conditions like sleep apnea and problems with your thyroid can cause higher blood pressure than normal. If you have these, it may be useful to have a home blood pressure monitor to ensure you are not developing more health issues.
Finally, some people get nervous at the doctor’s which can affect the readings. Doing the test at home can provide more accurate results, which are important to have. If any of these apply to you, they are as good a reason as any to use a home blood pressure checker.
7. Choosing the right one
Once you determine you need a blood pressure monitor, finding the right model is important. If you speak with your doctor, they may provide you with the best option. Otherwise, you will have to shop around. Once you purchase it, bring it to your doctor’s for them to verify the quality and to ensure you use it properly. You can read our reviews of the best blood pressure monitors on the market today by ==> clicking here.
Arguably the most important feature is accuracy. Find a high scoring model as it’s likely accurate. The blood pressure cuff needs to be the right fit because this will also mean readings are accurate. Most models come with an adjustable blood pressure cuff, so it should be easy to find one that fits you.
Finding the right price point is also something to consider. Your medical insurance may even cover a monitor. Certain home monitors offer special features like irregular heartbeat detection, compatibility with smartphones, multiple user options, data averaging and risk-category indicators. The monitor should also be easy to use. Considering all these factors will help you find the right one for you.
8. How to use the monitor
Start by putting the blood pressure cuff around the upper arm or the wrist, depending on the model. Make sure it’s over bare skin and not clothing. It’s better to use your left arm for the test, if possible. Position your arm on a table at the same level as your heart. Use a pillow if necessary. Lay your forearm on the table with your palm facing up. Sit up straight with your legs uncrossed to allow to avoid restricting blood flow.
Turn the machine on and begin the blood pressure reading test. This may require pressing another button or a switch, depending on the model. With automatic monitors, the cuff will inflate and adjust to your arm size by pushing another button. If it’s a manual model, you will have to squeeze the rubber bulb to inflate it yourself. Make sure it’s not too tight. Try to sit still, remain calm and avoid talking during the test.
Once the reading is complete, press the exhaust button to deflate the cuff. The monitor will display the reading on the screen. It will show your systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Write the systolic number before the diastolic. Systolic blood pressure refers to the pressure on your arteries during a heartbeat. The diastolic blood pressure refers to the pressure when your heart is resting.
If you want to perform multiple tests, wait a few minutes before inflating the cuff again. Make sure you use the same arm. Performing multiple tests provide an average, which can be more accurate than just one test. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or a little less. HBP is 140/90 and higher while a low reading is consistently below 90 or 25 points lower than your normal reading. Write the readings down if your monitor doesn’t store them automatically to keep track.
9. When to use your monitor
Different factors can affect your blood pressure and can affect an accurate reading on the blood pressure machine. Our blood pressure tends to be higher in the morning and varies throughout the day. You should take one test in the morning a little while after waking up and before eating or taking your medications. Take a second test in the evening. As stated before, take multiple tests at each of these times. If you are just starting to take your blood pressure, you may want to take tests up to six times a day to establish a record.
It’s also important to use the bathroom before taking the test because your blood pressure can be higher with a full bladder. Make sure you haven’t eaten or consumed alcohol, caffeine or tobacco 30 minutes before the test as this can also make your blood pressure reading higher than it normally would be. Also take the test before exercising as this also raises your blood pressure.