Traditionally a normal blood pressure (BP) has been cited as 120/80 but it is in fact more of a range that we consider normal, between 140/90 being the upper limit and requiring monitoring and lifestyle changes, and 90/60 being the lower limit which may make one prone to feeling light headed.
Blood pressure is a dynamic entity and normally will differ slightly depending on whether we are sitting or lying, whether its morning or evening, if we are stressed or relaxed, if we are young or old, if we have taken certain medications that could affect it, and if we have an underlying illness. That is why it’s so important to check blood pressure on repeat occasions and at different times as well as to take other factors into consideration. In this way Dr’s are able to see a trend in the blood pressure results. If the overall trend is above normal or if there is an isolated reading that is very high, then we would need to lower it.
The other very important reason to check blood pressure regularly is that one generally doesn’t feel any different with a raised blood pressure, and often by the time you do feel it, it is very high. Unmanaged, a raised blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. It is often known as the silent killer for this reason.
In south Africa 1 in 3 adults have hypertension or a raised blood pressure.
There are a few things that cause a raised blood pressure, most commonly being age related increase in blood pressure, especially over the age of 60 and often associated with a family history of our parents or siblings having raised blood pressure. Other rarer causes include kidney disease, heart disease, raised cholesterol and diabetes. Being overweight, not exercising and high intakes of alcohol and smoking can also play a role in raising blood pressure. And, as with many things stress will exacerbate a rise in blood pressure.
So, if our blood pressure is raised there is a lot we can do ourselves to help lower it: 1) weight loss and Exercise. Current guidelines recommend that each week, people with hypertension engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic intensity exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity exercise. We should exercise at least 5 times a week. Examples of activities include walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. 2) reduce salt in our diet. 3) reduce alcohol and cigarettes. 4) reduce stress levels. Look at changes you can make to your environment, redress work life balance, and meditation, mindfulness and faith are all ways of helping to reduce stress and worry levels. 5) avoid decongestants with ephedrine that may raise blood pressure and heart rate 6) finally, medication If despite all these lifestyle changes, the blood pressure remains elevated it is then necessary to start medication to reduce it. Medication is usually long term and often more than one drug combination is used for better management. This is to help reduce the complication that a raised blood pressure can result in. Blood pressure is an important part of our body’s regulation and its vital that it’s within the right range. Please ensure you get yours checked to make sure that yours is ok.
Contributor: Dr Susan Ford at FEMINA HEALTH.