Measuring your blood pressure at home

High blood pressure (aka hypertension) affects 1 billion (1 in 4) people globally and is one of the #1 risk factors for death. But what can we do to combat high blood pressure? Dr Sarah Jarvis (TV Doctor, LoSalt® advisor and Season With Sense ambassador) advises why we need to know our blood pressure numbers to combat future health problems, and how taking control of our health starts at home.

High blood pressure is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ as it very rarely causes any symptoms, and therefore frequently goes undiagnosed. In England, for every 10 people diagnosed with high blood pressure, a further 7 people remain undiagnosed and untreated. But why is high blood pressure so dangerous?

To understand the dangers, it’s important we understand how high blood pressure occurs first.

Your heart pumps blood all around your body. Blood pressure is a measure of how much pressure your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. If this pressure is too high, it puts a strain on both your arteries and your heart. Untreated or uncontrolled high blood pressure greatly increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

It is essential that blood pressure is measured regularly, to ensure raised levels are picked up – and you can make simple lifestyle changes that will help too, from exercising regularly, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol and reducing the amount of salt you eat- a diet high in sodium, can increase your blood pressure.

Why should we measure our blood pressure?

Measuring your blood pressure regularly is important, to make sure that medicines or lifestyle changes, are helping to bring your blood pressure down.

This year, Blood Pressure UK are encouraging the nation to Measure. Modify. Manage our blood pressure for Know Your Numbers! Week (5th-11th September 2022) – encouraging everyone to measure their blood pressure, modify their lifestyle if necessary and manage blood pressure to help beat ‘the silent killer’.

Home blood pressure monitoring is an effective and inexpensive way to manage blood pressure. It gives you a way to take control of your health, feel confident and take pressure off the NHS at the same time, as there’s no need to visit your GP.

Home blood pressure monitoring can:

  • give a picture of what your blood pressure is like as you go about your daily life
  • see if your blood pressure is higher in the clinic than when it is at home
  • help identify early signs of high blood pressure –make sure you alert your GP of any unexpected changes in your readings
  • help identify white coat hypertension – where the pressure is markedly higher due to anxiety about seeing a doctor

Many people may find that measuring their own blood pressure helps them feel more in control of their condition and help them feel motivated to stick to the lifestyle changes they are making, as they can see the difference it’s having on their health.

How to choose a blood pressure monitor

If you decide to measure your blood from home, you will need a home blood pressure monitor which are available from most pharmacies. Just make sure any monitor you choose has been ‘clinically validated’ for accuracy, this means it has gone through a series of tests to make sure it gives results that both you and your doctor can trust.

What do the two blood pressure numbers mean?

When you have your blood pressure measured, there will be two numbers (one over the other). The top number, called your systolic blood pressure, is the pressure inside your system when your heart is pumping blood out.

The lower number, called the diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure inside your system when your heart is resting between beats.

I know understanding the numbers can be tricky! So to help, watch this video, where I explain what the numbers mean and what you should aim for, as well as the best way to measure your own blood pressure.

Working with your doctor or nurse

It’s important you talk to your doctor or nurse before you start to measure your blood pressure at home. They may be able to advise on when to measure your blood pressure, or how often, and the ideal target blood pressure for you to aim for. You may also want to bring your own monitor to the clinic or surgery, so your doctor or nurse can be confident that it is accurate and that you are using it properly.

How does salt impact my blood pressure and what can I do to help?

High levels of sodium in your bloodstream pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount (volume) of blood inside them. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases.

While some sodium is essential for the body to function, the problem is, as a nation we eat way too much – a lot of salt is hidden in ready-prepared food we buy.

Reducing your salt intake and knowing your blood pressure numbers reduces your risk of hypertension, so by reading food labels, measuring your blood pressure regularly and learning to #SeasonWithSense by using a reduced sodium salt, you can start to make a big difference to your health.

This week is Know Your Numbers! Week, an annual awareness campaign by Blood Pressure UK which encourages the UK to know their blood pressure numbers. For further resources on home blood pressure monitoring, visit here – they’re easy to download, print and share for free.

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