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Blood Pressure UK is the country's leading blood pressure charity. Their mission is to raise awareness across the UK about the dangers of high blood pressure and the importance of lowering it. They also provide information for people with high blood pressure, who are at risk of developing long-term health issues, in order to help them get their blood pressure under control.
'Know Your Numbers!', a blood pressure awareness event, runs from 16th-22nd September 2013. HealthExpress spoke to the CEO of Blood Pressure UK, Katharine Jenner (pictured right at a blood pressure station), about the aims behind the campaign and why everyone should know their blood pressure reading.
HE: Worryingly, it’s estimated that 18% of men and 13% of women with high blood pressure aren't seeking treatment. What are the aims behind the Know Your Numbers! campaign?
KJ: Without knowing their blood pressure numbers, many people are unable to take those vital steps towards a healthier life. Blood Pressure UK has been running this event annually for the past 12 years to encourage the general public to have their blood pressure checked. If your blood pressure reading is raised or high, you can take immediate action to lower it, and to reduce your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
HE: How can people go about getting their blood pressure checked during Know Your Numbers! week?
KJ: Know Your Numbers! is a nationwide event - there are about 1200 ‘Pressure Stations’ spread across UK who will be measuring blood pressure during this week. This is entirely voluntary and includes colleges, hospitals, clinics, fitness centres and pharmacies. Click here for a full list of Pressure Stations.
HE: How else can people get involved with the campaign?
KJ: The most important thing you can do is to encourage your friends and family to go and have their blood pressure tested. As high blood pressure has no symptoms, you will not be aware you are living with the condition unless you are tested!
HE: Are there any celebrities, famous faces etc. lending their support to Know Your Numbers?
KJ: MPs around the county will be urging their constituents to have their blood pressure tested – if you go to your local Pressure Station you might just bump into one!
HE: Many people find interpreting their blood pressure reading confusing. Can you explain what the two numbers mean and what a healthy reading would be?
KJ: Blood pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ (mmHg) and is written as two numbers. The first (or top) number is your systolic blood pressure. It is the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats. The second (or bottom) number is your diastolic blood pressure. It is the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats. For example, if your reading is 120/80mmHg, your blood pressure is ‘120 over 80’, this blood pressure reading or less would be considered healthy. Above this, and you should think about taking steps to lower it. Above 140/90 and you could have high blood pressure (clinically known as ‘hypertension’) and possibly need treatment.
HE: Most people are aware of the common causes of high blood pressure, such as being overweight and smoking. What are some of the lesser-known causes?
KJ: Those most likely to be at risk are people who are overweight, have a relative with high blood pressure, are of African or Caribbean descent, eat a lot of salt (over 6g a day), don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, don't do enough exercise, drink a lot of alcohol or caffeine, or are aged over 65, also if they are diabetic or have problems with their kidneys.
HE: Can high blood pressure have any symptoms?
KJ: Having high blood pressure (hypertension) is not usually something that you feel or notice. It does not tend to produce obvious signs or symptoms. The only way to know your blood pressure is to have it measured.
HE: What can happen if high blood pressure is left untreated? What are the health risks?
KJ: Hypertension - or high blood pressure - puts extra strain on your blood vessels and heart, which can cause them to become weaker or damaged over time. The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of serious health problems in the future. The consequences can be severe, even fatal, as it can cause you to have a heart attack, it can also cause heart failure – the biggest causes of death in the UK.
HE: What are some of the best ways to lower your blood pressure if it is too high?
KJ: Most people’s blood pressure rises due to the lifestyle choices they make, and even small modifications can help lower it. For instance, eating too much salt and not enough potassium (in fruit and vegetables) over the long term puts up your blood pressure. If you stop adding salt to your foods, try and eat less salty foods, and ideally check the label and choose less salty options of your favourite foods – many people can see their blood pressure lower within weeks.
HE: Is a low blood pressure reading also a cause for concern?
KJ: Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the better. If you feel fine when you are standing up – then you have good blood pressure! However, it could be very dangerous to have a fall in the middle of the night due to standing up to quickly and feeling faint, so if you think this might happen to you, please discuss your blood pressure with your GP.
If you are concerned about your blood pressure, or just want to make sure that you Know Your Numbers!, why not visit one of the blood pressure stations between 16th and 22nd September? If your reading is high and you would like further advice on what to do next, you can arrange a free consultation with one of our doctors.