Everything You Need to Know about Blood Pressure. and How You Can Keep It under Control

By Anderson, Amy | Daily Mail (London), May 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

Everything You Need to Know about Blood Pressure. and How You Can Keep It under Control


Anderson, Amy, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: AMY ANDERSON

LAST week, guidelines were released by the U.S. government which indicated that people with 'normal' blood pressure levels could still be at risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. Experts believe levels once considered healthy indicate a condition called 'pre-hypertension' - a warning stage that could lead to full-blown 'hypertension', or abnormally high blood pressure. Now, the British Blood Pressure Association is to revise its guidelines. Here, AMY ANDERSON examines the controversy - and why controlling blood pressure is crucial to health.

THE HEART is a muscular pump. Every time it beats, it forces blood through the arteries and capillaries and around the body.

Blood pressure is the measurement of this force.

Two figures are relevant. The first - the higher figure - is when the heart contracts and forces blood through the arteries. The second - the lower figure - is when the heart relaxes between beats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury, which is written down as: mmHg. So, when you have your blood pressure measured, it is written down as two numbers, one over the other like a fraction - 140/90mmHg, for example.

The top number, the systolic pressure, shows the pressure in your arteries when your heart is forcing blood through them. The bottom number, the diastolic pressure, shows the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes.

The top number can be anywhere from 90 to 200, and the bottom number can be anywhere from 60 to 140. The higher your blood pressure rate, the harder your heart has to work, forcing the blood through arteries which may have narrowed or become stiff.

The strain of pumping the blood at this pressure can cause vessels to become clogged or to weaken, and this can lead to narrow blood vessels and clots which can damage the heart or brain. (More rarely, it can lead to the blood vessels bursting.) This is what doctors call essential hypertension.

A small number of people have secondary hypertension, which means there is an underlying cause of their high blood pressure.

For example, some people develop high blood pressure if they have problems with their kidneys or adrenal glands (which sit above the kidneys). These glands produce hormones that are important in controlling blood pressure.

As well as causing heart failure and stroke, high blood pressure can also cause the kidneys to fail.

PROFESSOR Graham Mac-Gregor is chairman of the British Blood Pressure Association (BPA). He says: 'One of the key messages from this new American report is that even people with healthy blood pressure should take steps to lower it further, to reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke.

'Knowing your blood pressure is the first step to reducing your risk, and everyone should have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years - and annually if it is on the high side of normal.

'In fact, the BPA would advise everyone to take advantage of opportunities for testing wherever they can - at work, visiting the doctor's, or at the gym.' WHO GETS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

HIGH blood pressure can affect anyone, but there are high-risk groups: * IF YOU have a family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack, you are more likely to have high blood pressure.

* BLACK and South-East Asian people are more likely to have high blood pressure, although the reasons are not fully understood.

* SOME other conditions are also linked to high blood pressure, such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease.

* BLOOD pressure goes up as we get older. …

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