What is high blood pressure?

What is high blood pressure? teaser
High Blood pressure (or hypertension) affects over 30% of the Australian population aged 18 years and older. Of these individuals, more than 68% are living with uncontrolled or unmanaged high blood pressure. 

What is the big deal about blood pressure?
Well for starters, let’s talk about what blood pressure actually means. Your body requires a constant supply of blood and oxygen to function properly. The heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the entire body via arteries (a network of small tubes) to keep it healthy.

Blood pressure is the amount of pressure your blood puts on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around the body (think of it like the pressure that water puts on the inside of a garden hose when you turn on the faucet).  Our blood pressure will change during the day based on our body’s needs.

High blood pressure is when the pressure of blood against your artery walls is too high. High blood pressure is the greatest contributor to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to all conditions and diseases that involve the heart such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Meaning that if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, your risk for other heart conditions increases significantly.

In the long run, high blood pressure makes the heart have to work harder to do its job effectively, causes damage to the arteries (bits of wear and tear) and makes the arteries less flexible. Nobody likes to be under lots of pressure when doing their job and the heart is no different!

Reducing your risk for high blood pressure or controlling diagnosed high blood pressure is a simple way to decrease the likelihood for other health complications.

What is a normal blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers.
An optimal blood pressure is around 120/80 mm hg - read as 120 over 80 millimetres of mercury.

Systolic (the upper number):  Indicates how much pressure the blood puts on your artery walls when your heart beats. The pressure is higher because your heart is contracting and working harder to pump the blood around the body.

Diastolic (the lower number): Indicates how much pressure your blood puts on your artery walls when the heart is resting between beats. This is when the heart is refilling with blood so the number should be lower.

What causes high blood pressure?
There are many reasons people can have high blood pressure. These are just a few common causes:
  • Family history – you will be more likely to develop high blood pressure if it runs in your family
  • Eating habits—diets that are high in salt, fat and processed foods narrows arteries and puts strain on the heart
  • Alcohol intake—drinking more than the recommended amount of no more than 1-2 standard drinks per day is a risk for high blood pressure
  • Lack of physical activity—the heart is a muscle and needs exercise to be strong, just like our biceps. Doing minimal physical activity means that our heart isn’t getting any exercise. A weaker heart has to work harder to pump blood through our body and this causes blood pressure to rise
  • Smoking—Smoking cigarettes is a big cause for high blood pressure. Smoking narrows your arteries and makes their walls stiff, meaning the blood flow against the walls will be more turbulent. It decreased the amount of oxygen in your blood and puts stress on your heart
How do I know if my blood pressure is high?
Most people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms. Some people will experience headache, vision changes, nausea or chest pain when blood pressure is very high.
It is always best to have your blood pressure checked by a health professional at least twice per year.

How is high blood pressure treated?
  • Lifestyle changes: This is a major part of blood pressure management. There are many lifestyle factors that influence blood pressure such as diet, alcohol, exercise and smoking. Making a few small changes, such as lowering salt in your diet or increasing physical activity can make a big difference
  • Medications: Some people will need medications to control blood pressure even while making lifestyle changes. Medications don’t cure high blood pressure—they only help to control it. Many of these medications help the blood flow more easily around the body, thus reducing the workload on the heart.
Seeing a Chronic Disease Nurse, Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist can be a great way to get more support in preventing or managing high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor today about how you can keep your heart healthy and happy!
Kaila Saxe
Chronic Disease Nurse
360 Health + Community
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