Know Your Numbers! Week: Alerting People to the Dangers of High Blood Pressure
The 14th – 20th September is Know Your Numbers! Week, an awareness campaign run by Blood Pressure UK to highlight the importance of knowing your blood pressure numbers. This means you can ensure they stay at a healthy level1. Blood pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ (mmHg) and every reading takes two measures: the first is your systolic level, which is the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats. The second is your diastolic pressure, which is the lowest level your pressure reaches as your heart relaxes
As part of the initiative, hundreds of organisations, including pharmacies, workplaces, GP surgeries, hospitals, leisure centres, supermarkets and health clubs, sign up to be Pressure Stations. They are then able to provide free blood pressure tests, plus information about how to lower your blood pressure and maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.1
The Know Your Numbers! campaign is the UK’s biggest blood pressure testing event. It’s on its fourteenth year and aims to highlight that in the time it takes to boil a kettle, you could have taken a blood pressure reading which might save your life. A shocking 16 million people in the UK suffer from high blood pressure, which is the biggest risk factor for stroke and heart attacks, yet 63% do not know their blood pressure numbers.1.1
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman at Blood Pressure UK, said: “This year we are urging everyone to make every second count – it’s quick, free, painless, and could save your life.
“Over half of the estimated 16 million people in the UK living with high blood pressure are unaware they have the condition, as it is symptomless. The only way to ‘Know Your Numbers’ is to have a blood pressure test at one of our free Pressure Stations in your area, your GP, local pharmacy, or by using a home blood pressure monitor”.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also knowns as hypertension, is a medical condition that puts extra strain on your arteries, veins and heart by having a higher flow pressure than normal.2
Hypertension affects nearly 1 billion people globally3 and can be easily diagnosed by comparing the measurements of an individual’s blood pressure to see whether the range is drastically elevated.
Health Effects of Hypertension
Hypertension can lead to many cardiovascular complications. The cardiovascular system includes all the blood vessels and the heart, both of which can become damaged over time by high blood pressure.
- Arterial damage & narrowing – healthy arteries have smooth, elastic inner linings to ensure that blood flows freely, but over time high blood pressure can damage these walls.4 Arteriosclerosis disease makes the arteries thick and rigid, allowing fats from your diet to pass through these damaged cells and clump together to form atheroma, known as atherosclerosis5. This narrows the artery and restricts blood flow.
- Aneurysm– over time, a section of a damaged artery’s lining can swell outwards, creating an aneurysm which can then burst and cause internal bleeding.6
- Stroke – occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, starving it of oxygen and sometimes resulting in brain damage. These can be caused by blood clots blocking the flow or by weakened blood vessels haemorrhaging.7
- Heart attack – this happens when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, often by a blood clot, which damages the heart tissue. Coronary heart disease is the biggest cause of heart attacks, as fatty deposits block the arteries and create atheroma.8
- Embolism– when blood flow is blocked in an artery by a foreign object such as a blood clot or air bubble.9
How to Lower or Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
The biggest factors in lowering blood pressure are a healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking. If you have high blood pressure, try the Blood Pressure UK’s top five tips to lower it and maintain a healthy level.
- Cut down on salt – Reducing your salt intake is the quickest way to lower your blood pressure. Don’t add it when cooking or at the table and check food labels – aim to eat less than 6g a day.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables – at least five different portions every day.
- Watch your weight – try to reach the right weight for your height.
- Exercise regularly – that doesn’t have to mean the gym, how about a regular lunchtime walk? 30 minutes five times a week is ideal. If you’re unsure about taking up exercise, ask your GP.
- Drink alcohol in moderation – no more than 3-4 units a day for men and no more than 2-3 units for women (a pint of normal strength beer = 2 units, a medium glass of wine = 2 units).
A Hypertension Sufferer Exercises Her Way Back to Health
Janine Lewis from Berkshire has struggled with hypertension for years but has learnt to manage it with a healthy diet and regular exercise, whilst fundraising for Blood Pressure UK.
“I describe myself as a chunky monkey, busy mother and wife. I have two teenagers, a husband, three dogs, one horse and a couple of feral pigeons, so life is always in the fast lane. I am a real foody and have been brought up on a Mediterranean style diet. I also love the finer things in life like wine, cheese, home-made cake and chocolate!
“I was diagnosed with hypertension 10 years ago, when I had just turned 40. I had gone to the doctor for an MOT check as I had lost 7 stone in a year and just wanted to make sure I was okay. Imagine my surprise when she said, ’You have very high blood pressure and you could do with losing some weight to help that’! After a brief chat about my weight loss journey, the reasons for doing it and my family history – angina, thrombosis, heart attacks, strokes (all mostly from early 40s onwards) – it was agreed I would need close monitoring and medication to control it. I also had preeclampsia issues through my pregnancies but I was never followed up after the birth of the children.”
Monitoring blood pressure during pregnancy is very important as a rise in blood pressure and mercury levels can be a sign of preeclampsia. Normal blood pressure levels are generally below 120/80 mm Hg.
“My initial weight loss had been through careful eating and walking. I didn’t want to be on medication all my life. It was also a concern that once I had started the medication, my weight started to increase. So I was very strict with my food and also took up running. Still the weight went up. So I came off the medication without consulting my doctor. I was back in her room about 3 months later feeling odd, suffering tiredness and a ‘spaced-out’ feeling. She took my blood pressure and it was sky high – 169/110.”
Managing Life with Hypertension
Janine can appreciate the importance of knowing your blood pressure, so is fully supportive of the Know Your Numbers! Week campaign.
“My numbers are important to me as it is difference between life and death. I take my blood pressure each day, when I wake up and then before I go to bed. It is often higher if I have just woken up and not eaten, so the best time is just after a cuppa, and before the dog walk or morning run.
“I am a conundrum to my doctors; if I over exercise my readings are crazily high and if I don’t, then they’re still unhealthily high. I can’t take anything for granted such as relying on a good diet and exercise. Even with my medication it is a steady but high 149/95. But think how much worse it would be with ignorance. I’d be a flat line.”
Treatment for high blood pressure can have an immediate effect or for others may take months to make a difference. Some people need to remain on medication for the rest of their lives, but if your levels remain stable after a number of years, your doctor might think it suitable to stop treatment.
“Over the years I’ve learned to accept that despite a sensible diet and lots of exercise I would have to stay on the medication. I am constantly monitored when I embark on my charity challenges, ultra runs of 60-184 miles. My blood pressure can get as high as 170/105 after a run and stay there for about a week. Without the focus of running for a charity I would struggle to find the motivation to keep it up. I love running for the freedom and keeping my weight static (despite on the heavier side for my height). It is also a great stress buster and has been pivotal in making some great new friends.
“Apart from exercise, I keep my blood pressure down by eating beetroot, adding cinnamon to cereals, eating a diet rich in vegetables, avoiding excess fat and salt, choosing lean cuts of meat and saving the chocolate, cakes, cheese and wine for occasional treats.
“I’m very pleased I went to the doctor for an MOT, otherwise I would have followed the family history of suffering with genetic heart issues in my 40s. I could not be here to write this, as having high blood pressure can go undetected and is a silent killer.”
Fundraising for Charities Close to her Heart
For Janine, hypertension was the push to get her into exercise and she has combined her love of running with charity fundraising to support others.
“This year I suffered a medical set back so I was grounded from running and had to defer my challenges to 2016. I am now back in my trainers getting my fitness levels up to compete in the Reading Half Marathon, London Marathon, a 24 hour non-stop run and a 184 mile run along the Thames in under 80 hours with an 11kg rucksack.”
“Over the last year 5 years I have raised over £15,000 for charity. I have run for 24 hours as a duck on a 5 mile loop course in thick mud, run 5 marathons in 5 days from Ilfracombe back to Bulford camp (132 miles). I’ve run as a bear for 24 hours on a 400m track and I’ve run a half marathon dressed as a butterfly. I do my short training with my faithful dog, Harry. I am an attention seeking diva and if I am not in fancy dress I wear my psychedelic running tights.”
Janine is taking part in a number of upcoming events, all fundraising for Blood Pressure UK. This includes the 2016 London Marathon. Take a look at her fundraising page or blog, where she is charting her progress.
Note: This articles does not represent an endorsement of The ID Band Co products by Blood Pressure UK.
1.1 Data based on 9,250 readings taken from monitoring forms during Know your Numbers! Week 2014