Employee Wellbeing - Blood Pressure
This factsheet is aimed at raising awareness of high blood pressure and the benefits of reducing it. What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the blood in your arteries (blood vessels). Blood is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Your blood pressure is recorded as two figures:
- Systolic - the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts
- Diastolic - the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between each heartbeat
These figures are recorded as 120/80 – Systolic being the top figure and Diastolic the bottom one.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is classed as high when the reading is 140/90 mmHg or above over a sustained period of time. A one off high reading would not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure and could be due to factors such as over exertion following exercise or increased stress levels. To ensure accurate diagnosis, readings are taken on different occasions including when you are resting. High blood pressure can be:
- Just high systolic - 170/70
- Just high diastolic - 120/104
- Or both 170/110
Who should have their blood pressure measured?
As you will not know if you have high blood pressure (it shows no symptoms) it is recommended that you have it checked at least every 3-5 years. Older people, people with diabetes or those who have had a previous high reading should have it taken more often (at least once per year).
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure is measured by placing a cuff around the upper arm which is then inflated and deflated automatically using a BP machine. Following this a blood pressure reading will be given. As stated above a one off high reading would not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure and could be due to factors such as over exertion following exercise or increased stress levels. To ensure accurate diagnosis, readings are taken on different occasions including when you are resting.
What causes high blood pressure?
The pressure in the arteries depends on how hard the heart pumps, and how much resistance there is in the arteries. It is thought that slight narrowing of the arteries increases the resistance to blood flow, which increases the blood pressure. The cause of the slight narrowing of the arteries is not clear. Various factors probably contribute.
What are the risks of having high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a 'risk factor' for developing a cardiovascular disease (such as a heart attack or stroke), and kidney damage, sometime in the future. If you have high blood pressure, over the years it may do some damage to your arteries and put a strain on your heart. In general, the higher your blood pressure, the greater the health risk. But, high blood pressure is just one of several possible risk factors for developing a cardiovascular disease.
What are cardiovascular diseases?
Cardiovascular diseases are diseases of the heart (cardiac muscle) or blood vessels (vasculature). However, in practice, when doctors use the term 'cardiovascular disease' they usually mean diseases of the heart or blood vessels that are caused by atheroma. Patches of atheroma are like small fatty lumps that develop within the inside lining of arteries (blood vessels). Atheroma is also known as 'atherosclerosis' and 'hardening of the arteries'.
Lifestyle changes that can improve your blood pressure
Lose weight if you are overweight
Losing some excess weight can make a big difference. Blood pressure can fall by up to 2.5/1.5 mmHg for each excess kilogram which is lost. Losing excess weight has other health benefits too.
Eat a healthy diet for a healthy heart
- AT LEAST 1/3 OF THE FOOD WE EAT should be fruit and veg. This equates to between five portions, and 9 portions per day
- AT LEAST 1/3 OF THE FOOD WE EAT should be starch-based such as cereals, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta – try and eat wholegrain varieties as often as possible
- INCLUDE some dairy every day, this could be a smaller portion of the high fat varieties or regular portion of the low-fat options (milk, fromage frais, cheese, yoghurt)
- INCLUDE at least one portion of meat, fish, eggs and beans/peas/lentils per day. Opt for lean cuts of meat, remove all visible fat (including chicken skin) and grill where possible. Pulses are naturally low in fat and an excellent source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Aim for at least 2 portions of fish per week (at least one of which should be 'oily' (such as salmon or mackerel).
- LIMIT the amount of food and drink you consume that is high in sugar and fat. If you do fry use a vegetable oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive.
- REDUCE salt to the recommended maximum of 6g per day for an adult
- DRINK plenty of water (at least 2 litres per day) and avoid calorie laden drinks
A healthy diet provides benefits in different ways. For example, it can lower cholesterol, help control your weight, and has plenty of vitamins, fibre, and other nutrients which help to prevent certain diseases. Some aspects of a healthy diet also directly affect blood pressure. For example, if you have a poor diet and change to a diet which is low-fat, low-salt, and high in fruit and vegetables, it can lower systolic blood pressure by up to 11 mmHg.
Regular physical activity
If possible, aim to do some physical activity on five or more days of the week, for at least 30 minutes. For example, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc. Regular physical activity has been shown to raise levels of HDL cholesterol and prevent patches of atheroma from forming. If you previously did little physical activity, and change to doing regular physical activity five times a week, it can reduce systolic blood pressure by 2-10 mmHg.
Reduce your salt intake
Too much salt can increase your risk of high blood pressure which is not good for your heart. Guidelines recommend that we should have no more than 6 grams of salt per day but our diets often include a lot more than this. Try to gradually reduce the amount of salt you use and you will find that over time your taste buds will adapt.
Restrict your number of caffeine drinks
Caffeine is thought to have a modest effect on blood pressure. It is advised that you restrict your coffee consumption (and other caffeine-rich drinks) to fewer than five cups per day.
Drink alcohol in moderation
A small amount of alcohol (1-2 units per day) may help to protect you from heart disease. One unit is in about half a pint of normal strength beer, or two thirds of a small glass of wine, or one small pub measure of spirits. However, too much alcohol can be harmful.
- Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week (and no more than four units in any one day).
- Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (and no more than three units in any one day).
Cutting back on heavy drinking improves health in various ways. It can also have a direct effect on blood pressure. For example, if you are drinking heavily, cutting back to the recommended limits can lower a high systolic blood pressure by up to 10 mmHg.
Medication may also be prescribed to lower blood pressure if it can not be controlled by lifestyle changes – see your doctor for further information
Smoking and high blood pressure
Smoking does not directly affect the level of your blood pressure. However, smoking greatly adds to your health risk if you already have high blood pressure. If you smoke, you should make every effort to stop. If you smoke and are having difficulty in stopping, then see your practice nurse for help and advice.
If you are concerned about your blood pressure it is recommend you seek medical advice from your G.P. or for further information visit:
I hope you have found this fact sheet useful. For further information on blood pressure testing or any of the services offered by Work Well Hub please call us now on: 01202 987916 or email Hello@workwellhub.com
This fact sheet has been adapted from the NHS website – www.patient.co.uk and is for information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information but we make no guarantee to its accuracy.