Your blood pressure can be an important indicator of your health. Having high blood pressure can damage your organs and blood vessels and may lead to serious health conditions. On the other hand, a healthy blood pressure means your risk of developing these serious conditions, like heart attacks, is lower. In this article, we discuss what your blood pressure reading means.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure measures the pressure of blood in your arteries as blood flows around your body. Your blood pressure fluctuates up and down throughout the day. For example, when you exercise your blood pressure generally increases temporarily.
When getting your blood pressure checked, two numbers are measured:
- The top number is called the systolic pressure. This is the pressure at the point your heart beats to push blood throughout the body.
- The bottom number is called the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure at the point your heart relaxes between beats.
The only way to check whether you have a normal, high, or low blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. Local pharmacies or your GP surgery can perform blood pressure checks. Many people opt to buy their own BP monitor to measure their blood pressure at home.
If your blood pressure is high, this can start to damage your organs and arteries. If your blood pressure remains high over a long period of time, this increases your risk of developing a number of conditions such as stroke, kidney disease, heart attacks, and heart failure. For this reason, keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level is crucial.
Having a blood pressure check
Blood pressure is tested using a device called a sphygmomanometer. Traditionally, a stethoscope and arm cuff are used, but devices that use sensors with a digital display are now commonly used.
The cuff is fastened around the top of your arm and the cuff is then pumped up to restrict blood flow. The pressure in the cuff is then gradually released and measurements are taken as the blood flow returns to your arm. These measurements give you the blood pressure reading. When carrying out the test you should sit down with your legs uncrossed.
Below we discuss low, healthy, and high blood pressure ranges. Please be aware that this is a general guide and everyone’s blood pressure can be different. You should speak to your GP to discuss what a healthy or high blood pressure is for you. There is also an NHS blood pressure calculator available to use as a guide.
Low blood pressure
We often hear about high blood pressure, but some people suffer from low blood pressure. This is called hypotension. Hypotension has many possible causes including certain medicines, pregnancy, and certain medical conditions.
Hypotension can cause symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision
- Feeling lightheaded
A blood pressure reading below 90/60mmHg is considered low blood pressure. This is the case even if only one of the numbers is low. If you think you have low blood pressure you should speak to your GP.
Some people can suffer from postural hypotension (also called orthostatic hypotension). This happens when standing up from sitting or lying down causes a significant drop in blood pressure. It’s more common in older people and it can happen if a person is dehydrated.
Normal blood pressure
The range for normal, or healthy blood pressure, is generally above 90/60mmHg and below 120/80mmHg. Any blood pressure reading in this range is described as ideal blood pressure.
Even if you have healthy blood pressure, all adults over the age of 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least every 5 years.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. As discussed earlier, hypertension can cause damage to organs and blood vessels and may lead to future health problems like heart attacks. Generally, a blood pressure of over 140/90mmHg indicates hypertension.
A blood pressure of between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg is described as being ‘high-normal’. This means you are at risk of hypertension and should try to aim for a slightly lower reading to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
If your doctor checks your blood pressure and it’s above 140/80mmHg, they usually offer you something called ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM). This means your blood pressure is monitored over a 24 hour period. You will be given a cuff to wear for a full day that monitors your blood pressure regularly.
If your average blood pressure over the course of a day is above 135/85mmHg with ABPM, this generally confirms that you have hypertension. Usually, hypertension has no signs or symptoms.
Lowering blood pressure
If you have hypertension, it is important to try to lower your blood pressure. This is done through making healthy lifestyle changes and often taking medicines to lower blood pressure.
Two effective lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure are stopping smoking and losing weight if you’re overweight. Our online doctor service offers weight-loss medications to help you lose weight alongside exercise and a healthy diet. We also offer Champix or nicotine patches to help you stop smoking.
Other effective lifestyle changes include:
- Eating a healthy diet with at least 5 fruit and vegetables a day
- Lowering your salt intake
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Being physically active
Blood pressure medicines are available to order from our online doctor service. Our service is available to people who are already prescribed blood pressure medicines from their GP. You can also use our app or website to order your repeat NHS medicines (including blood pressure medication) straight to your door.
Content Reviewed: 02/10/2020