What is blood pressure?

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High blood pressure, known as hypertension, can lead to potentially lethal health conditions such as heart attack or stroke — yet can be easy to ignore due to lack of symptoms.

As you might expect, blood pressure refers to the pressure of the blood in your arteries. These are the tubes which transport blood from your heart to your brain and around your body.

It goes up and down naturally throughout the day, but if it’s consistently high then something needs to be done.

Knowing your numbers

It is measured using two figures:

Systolic pressure is always the higher number and refers to the pressure of blood against arteries as the heart pumps.

Dystolic pressure is the lower number and refers to the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats.

When blood pressure is consistently high, arteries can lose their stretchiness and become stiff or narrow. This makes it easier for fatty material called atheroma to build up within the arteries.

If left untreated, the damage caused can lead to:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Sight problems
  • Vascular dementia

There are various risk factors, many of them lifestyle based.

People tend to be more at risk if they:

  • Are aged over 65
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Don’t do enough exercise
  • Smoke
  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Are overweight (particularly around the middle)
  • Consume too much salt
  • Don’t eat enough fruit and veg

Most people in the UK will be tested as they reach middle age, usually at their GP surgery but sometimes at work or a pharmacy.

Are you over 40? Sign up to book a FREE NHS health check with Be Healthy Bucks.


Learn more on the NHS website.

30 August, 2023