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Menopause
Women’s Health
The importance of knowing your blood pressure

The importance of knowing your blood pressure

Knowing your blood pressure may not seem very important to you, but don't underestimate this! Your blood pressure can change very quickly and is worth monitoring regularly. Chronic high blood pressure can put you at risk for many fatal health conditions.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. Our bodies need a certain amount of pressure in order to get our blood moving such that it meets the demands of our body.

Your blood pressure naturally goes up and down throughout the day and night, and it’s normal for it to go up while you’re moving about. It’s when your overall blood pressure is consistently high, even when you are resting, that you need to do something about it.

Blood pressure tends to increase as you get older in both sexes, especially if you are overweight. High blood pressure may be partially inherited, so it is worth knowing your family history of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Why is it important to know your blood pressure?

High blood pressure (Hypertension) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke). About 50% of heart attacks and strokes are related to high blood pressure. It is also a risk factor for kidney failure, heart failure, problems with your sight and vascular dementia.

When your blood pressure is consistently high, your heart is working really hard to pump blood around your body. As a result, your arteries (blood vessels) become stiff and narrow, and clog up more easily causing heart disease.

Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily treated with both medication and/or lifestyle changes. Controlling your blood pressure has been proven to reduce your risks of heart problems and stroke.

Before the menopause, women have a lower risk of heart disease than men of the same age. But after the menopause, women’s risks of heart disease increases to be similar to that of men. This may be directly related to a drop in estrogen - but more research is required in this area before we can identify a route cause. Regardless, it is worth knowing your personal risk factors for heart disease so that you can try and reduce your risks.

What is the cause of high blood pressure?

We don’t always know the cause of high blood pressure, but most people develop high blood pressure because of their diet, lifestyle or a medical condition.

Sometimes high blood pressure runs in families and is prone to worsen with age. People living in deprived areas are at higher risk, and it is also more common if you are of black African or black Caribbean descent.

Your risk of high blood pressure is increased by:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Not doing enough exercise / Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Eating too much salt

Occasionally, high blood pressure may happen because of medical reasons. This includes conditions such as the abnormal production of hormones from the adrenal glands, kidney disease, diabetes, and some medicines, including some over-the-counter and herbal medicines.

How is blood pressure measured?

Commonly, your blood pressure will be measured using an instrument called a sphygmomanometer. This is a device consisting of an arm cuff, a pump, a dial, and a stethoscope. The arm cuff will go around your upper arm, and be slowly pumped up, restricting blood flow for a few seconds before slowly releasing tension. This way, the stethoscope is able to detect the rate of your pulse (heart beat) as blood begins to move steadily through your arm again. There are a range of other automatic devices.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). It is displayed with 2 figures - the first number represents your systolic blood pressure and the second one represents your diastolic pressure.

  • Systolic blood pressure: The pressure of your heart when it contracts (pushes blood out).
  • Diastolic blood pressure: The pressure of your heart when it is resting between heart beats.

What is a healthy or normal blood pressure?

Your blood pressure should be under 140/90 mmHg.

  • Low- Systolic: lower than 90 mmHg Diastolic: lower than 60 mmHg
  • Normal-Systolic: lower than 140 mmHg Diastolic: lower than 90 mmHg
  • Possible hypertension-Systolic: between 140 and 180 mmHg Diastolic: between 90 and 110 mmHg
  • Severe hypertension- Systolic: higher than 180 mmHg Diastolic: higher than 110 mmHg

A single high blood pressure reading does NOT mean that you have hypertension. Your blood pressure should be checked in both arms, and on several occasions. If you are concerned that you may have hypertension, then it is usually recommended that you have a device fitted for 12 hours to take multiple readings (ambulatory blood pressure monitoring ABPM) or that you take multiple home readings. The average of your values should then be considered by your doctor before a formal diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) is made.

If you find that your readings fall out of the normal range, have a chat with your GP about how you can get your blood pressure under control again.

Where you can get you blood pressure checked

You can take a blood pressure test at any point - it is quick and easy with immediate results. Fortunately, there are many places you can go for a quick check:

  • Your local GP
  • At an NHS health check appointment - This is offered in the UK to all adults aged 40-74 years old who are not already receiving treatment for chronic disease.
  • Some pharmacies or workplaces
  • At home (If you have your own blood pressure monitor)
  • At some Gyms by a personal trainer

Why buying your own blood pressure monitor is a good idea

If the idea of going to a GP / local pharmacy to get your blood pressure checked makes you uncomfortable, you can also check it yourself at home. Being anxious or nervous when getting your blood pressure may cause an uncharacteristic rise in blood pressure. The best way to accurately measure your blood pressure is when you are completely relaxed, and on several occasions.

It may seem a bit complicated at first, but once you understand how to use the device, it can be a real lifesaver. It is great for ensuring you regularly measure your blood pressure long term. There are a number of reasonably priced monitors that you can buy online, at local pharmacies or even at larger supermarkets (British and Irish Hypertension Society provides details on blood pressure monitors for home use)

If you are nervous about using it incorrectly, it may be worth bringing it to an appointment with your GP. This way then can walk you through how to use so you can confidently begin using it regularly, and you can check the reading against your doctors machine.

If I have high blood pressure can I take HRT?

As long as your blood pressure is controlled by medication it is safe to take HRT. But it would be unwise to start HRT with uncontrolled high blood pressure as you might have an increased risk of having a stroke. Taking HRT does not increase your blood pressure, but it is good practice for your healthcare professional to check your blood pressure and weight at your HRT checks. Of course you can monitor yourself, and make lifestyle changes to improve both.

References
  1. nhs.uk. 2018. Blood Pressure Test. [online] Available at: [https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/blood-pressure-test/]

  2. Bhf.org.uk. n.d. High Blood Pressure. [online] Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/high-blood-pressure [Accessed 10 August 2020].

  3. Nice.org.uk. 2019. Overview | Hypertension In Adults: Diagnosis And Management | Guidance | NICE. [online] Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng136 [Accessed 8 August 2020].