There are some categories of health that feel like a mystery to your average punter. You hear words like cholesterol, or blood sugar levels but you couldn’t really identify what they are or why they matter. We presume that if it was a problem, we would surely have noticed by now, and we go about our lives living in blissful ignorance. It is kind of like closing the door to your teenager’s pigsty that was once a bedroom: If I can’t see it, it isn’t there.
Blood pressure falls into this category. We tend to associate it with slapstick comedies, where someone gets so stressed that they keel over and die. We all laugh. Carry on. But the truth couldn’t be more serious. This year, 7,600,000 people will die because of their blood pressure issues. If all of these deaths happened in Australia, that would be one in three people. Give it a couple of years and it would (for the first time) be terra nullius. Yet, to bastardise the Kiwi rapper Scribe, how many dudes you know got a blood pressure monitor? Not many. If any.
So, I’m here to give you the 411 on blood pressure in the hope that you and your loved ones don’t join that 7.6 million people this year.
Understanding a blood pressure reading
A blood pressure monitor will give you a number phrased as a fraction (120/80). The first number tells you how much pressure your blood is exerting against the walls of your artery when your heart beats. This is the moment of the squeeze or the pulse, so naturally it is higher. This is called the systolic reading, and somewhere less than 120 is usually a good amount which the heart can deal with comfortably.
The bottom part of the fraction is called the diastolic number. This tells you how much pressure your blood is exerting against the walls of your ovaries in between beats. A reading of less than 80 is usually positive. However, different people work differently, and so what works for you might be slightly different to what works for your friend. These numbers are rough guidelines only.
Low Blood Pressure - hypotension
You would be considered to have low blood pressure when you return a reading lower than 90 mm of mercury (mm Hg) on the upper systolic reading, or less than 60 on the lower diastolic reading. You might actually have this right now, and not really notice. You know that feeling when you stand up too quickly and feel faint? That is because you’ve temporarily got low blood pressure. Having said that, it can also be life threatening.; it all depends on why your blood pressure is low. It can take you into shock, so if you have any of the following, you should seek urgent medical intervention:
- Appearing dazed and confused
- Skin is cold and clammy
- Going white
- Breathing becomes shallow and quick
- Pulse is weak or very fast
The causes for low blood pressure can include:
- Being pregnant. Yep, once again, pregnancy brings some further joys. Pregnancy causes your blood cells to expand rapidly, which lowers your blood pressure. You will often find that this is most pronounced in the first 24 weeks.
- Dehydration. If you’ve not kept up the fluid, your blood becomes less liquidy. This means you have less of it, and there is less to pump through your heart.
- Blood loss. Predictably, if you’ve suffered some catastrophic injury, there is less to go around. In case you are losing blood and have decided to not call an ambulance: call an ambulance.
- Lack of good nutrients in your diet. If you consistently have low blood pressure, it is worth discussing possible causes with your doctor.
If you pick up a home blood pressure monitor, you are much more able to provide your doctor with a more full picture of your heart.
High blood pressure - Hypertension
If your systolic reading is anywhere north of 130 and/or your diastolic is above 80, you would be considered to have high blood pressure. Naturally, there are ebbs and flows throughout the day, but if you keep a high blood pressure for too long, you can do major damage to the blood vessels. This might then cause heart failure, loss of vision, a stroke, or kidney disease. The sad reality is that most people who suffer from hypertension don’t even realise they have a problem until it has caused one of these conditions. It has the nickname the ‘silent killer’ for good reason (hence why I keep banging the drum about getting a blood pressure monitor in homes and workplaces). If you or someone you know are experiencing the following symptoms, call 00 straight away.
- A sharp headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling dizzy
- Experiencing double vision
- A bloody nose
- Feeling breathless
- A fluttery feeling in their heart
So, how do we go about getting to this stage? Prevention is always better than a cure, right? It turns out that high blood pressure has a number of lifestyle factors.
- Watch your weight. The more you clog your arteries, the more pressure it takes to push the blood through a smaller hole.
- Reduce sodium. I know, a bit of salt can make a meal sing, but if you avoid foods that don’t have sodium as a base ingredient you can go a long way.
- Quit smoking. I feel like I can copy paste this into every article I write.
- Reduce your stress. Easier said than done…
- Cut back on caffeine. It prompts the release of adrenaline which causes your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow.
- Cut back on the amount of alcohol you are consuming. The hormone renin causes the blood vessels to constrict, as well as causing you to become dehydrated.
I hope this has shone a light on the silent killer. If we are aware of how our blood pressure affects our health, we can make sure we aren’t in that 7.6 million.
Image Sources by: Freepik
Image Author: @freepik