Feel the pressure
There are lots of things that can boil your blood: bad drivers, a toddler who wakes up 10 times a night, and being put on hold by a telephone company then getting cut off (after putting up with their idiotic hold music for 30 minutes). You can literally feel your pressure rising!
In fact, our blood pressure (for real now, not just figuratively speaking) changes throughout the day to meet the needs of our body and is affected by our emotions (such as road rage… or phone company rage). It is also affected by our breathing, the position of our body, sleep and exercise – it doesn’t stay the same all the time.
Some people have persistently high blood pressure (hypertension) and others have low blood pressure (hypotension). As the term suggests, blood pressure is simply the pressure with which blood in the arteries is pumped around the body.
There is actually no ideal blood pressure reading, but it is possible to know whether you fall into the category of normal or not.
Measuring blood pressure
Blood pressure is easily measured with a sphygmomanometer – which sounds suspiciously like a muscley, crazy German scientist, but is in fact a pretty basic device.
An inflatable pressure cuff is wrapped around the upper arm and records two numbers – the first (and larger) is the systolic blood pressure which indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart squeezes out blood during each beat.
The second number (the lower one) is the diastolic blood pressure which shows the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat.
As a guide:
- Adults with normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80.
- The higher range of normal would be 120/80 to 139/89.
- Mild high blood pressure is between 140/90 and 159/99.
- Moderate high blood is between 160/100 and 179/109.
- Severe high blood pressure is equal to (or more than) 180/110.
If someone has a high blood pressure reading, several repeated readings may need to be taken on separate occasions to confirm the level. When measuring blood pressure, the person should be calm and relaxed, and sitting or lying down.
High blood pressure usually doesn’t have symptoms (in fact you can have it and feel perfectly healthy) but it can lead to some nasty health problems and is a major risk factor for developing both a stroke or heart attack.
High blood pressure can also lead to serious problems such as kidney disease and heart failure. It can be controlled by eating healthily and making lifestyle changes (not swearing at bad drivers would help… as would more obvious things like quitting smoking, losing weight and getting some exercise).
Controlling high blood pressure
Pharmacy assistants can make several recommendations to help customers to lower their blood pressure if it is high. Dietary and lifestyle changes will make a huge difference, so try recommending the following:
- reduce salt/sodium intake;
- limit alcohol intake;
- quit smoking;
- get active and start doing some exercise;
- lose any excess weight;
- increase potassium intake (through the diet); and
- eat a balanced diet low in fat and processed foods (that means including vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, lean meats, oily fish, dairy (reduced, low or no fat), nuts, seeds and legumes.
Of course some people may also need to take medication to control their blood pressure and should therefore be referred to their doctor. However, the above lifestyle changes are still necessary.
Two out of 5 people can successfully lower their blood pressure by making the necessary lifestyle adjustments.
Low blood pressure (hypotension) is when the pressure of blood circulating around the body is lower than normal (or lower than expected).
It is only considered a problem if it has a negative impact on the body – such as feeling dizzy or lightheaded (particularly when standing from a sitting or lying position), or experiencing weakness, blurred vision, fatigue or fainting. Seeing Robert Pattinson doesn’t count.
However, ‘hypotension’ is a relative term as a person could have low blood pressure compared to other people with similar physical characteristics, yet they can be perfectly healthy.
If the blood pressure is too low for a particular person, then it can have a negative impact – such as vital organs (like the brain) being starved of oxygen and nutrients in the blood. If the measurement drops 30mmHg below the person’s usual blood pressure, this is considered to be hypotension.
Low blood pressure usually develops over time. It can be caused by many things, such as sudden blood loss, emotional stress, pregnancy, internal bleeding, overheating (and resultant dehydration) and some medications.
Treatment for hypotension therefore depends on the cause. If no particular cause can be found, a doctor may recommend medication to raise blood pressure.
There’s only one way for a person to know if they have high blood pressure, and that is to get it checked regularly. If a customer’s blood pressure falls into the range of normal and there are no risk factors for cardiovascular disease or family history of high blood pressure, then a check every year is adequate.
Anyone whose blood pressure is higher than normal or has risk factors or a family history should have their blood pressure checked more frequently. It’s a quick, simple check that could save their life.
by Sunny de Bruyn