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Testing perceptions about high blood pressure

Published : Friday May 25, 2012 | Posted in : General Health

Though most of us know about the importance of having healthy blood pressure, a surprising number of people will not choose to check whether this is the case unless their doctor recommends it. This means that the vast majority of us can be oblivious of the potential risks we are taking by not making sure that our blood pressure is neither too low nor too high.

High blood pressure is particularly dangerous because it does not present any symptoms, which is why it is often referred to as the "silent killer". This lack of symptoms can lead to serious cardiovascular complications developing unnoticed, which can be fatal. The only way to know whether or not you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure monitored, either by a doctor or using a home monitor. Those who are deemed to be at risk will be advised to have a reading taken regularly.

How much do people know about their blood pressure?

To find out whether there really is a problem with our perception of our own individual blood pressure, I challenged 10 people in our HealthExpress office – myself included – to guess their blood pressure. Using an automatic blood pressure monitor, I then took a reading for each person. What was interesting first was how few people knew what figures indicated high, low or ideal blood pressure. Most people, rather than guess their actual figures, simply stated they expected their blood pressure to be "normal". In actual fact, out of the ten people who had their blood pressure monitored, only one person actually had an "ideal" reading. Everyone else was either shown to be in the "pre-high blood pressure" or "high blood pressure" zone.

Understanding the numbers

high blood pressure chart

So what do the numbers actually mean? If you look at the chart on the right, borrowed from Blood Pressure UK, you will see 10 stars, which correspond with the blood pressure readings described above. The only star in the green section will be used as an example here to explain the two figures. This person had a blood pressure reading of 109/77, which is considered to be an ideal and healthy reading. The first number, 109, is the systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure of your heart beating and pushing the blood around your body. This figure should ideally be 120 or lower. The second number, 77, refers to the diastolic pressure, which is relaxation of the heart between beats. Healthy diastolic blood pressure readings will be 80 or less.

As a general guide, healthy blood pressure should be 120/80 or lower. Any reading between this and 140/90 is considered normal but still higher than is ideally healthy. Any figure over 140/90 indicates high blood pressure. Individuals who receive readings higher than this should see a doctor for further advice.

Things to bear in mind

Blood pressure should be monitored regularly to determine whether it is too high or too low; a single occasion is not sufficient to diagnose a problem, though it can indicate whether regular monitoring is necessary. A phenomenon known as white coat syndrome can cause the blood pressure readings of individuals to be elevated when it is taken in a clinical setting, such as at the doctor's surgery. This is why regular monitoring, potentially in the home environment, is advised.

Individuals who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and are taking medication to help treat the condition will need to monitor their blood pressure at regular intervals. A doctor can do this, but it is also possible to take regular readings in the home using an automated blood pressure monitor like the one I used today. Patients who purchase their high blood pressure medication here at HealthExpress for a course of six months will receive a free blood pressure monitor with their order.

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