Is your blood pressure too high? Find out how to check your blood pressure and whether you are at risk.
Why should I know my blood pressure?
If your blood pressure is too high, it can do massive damage. It narrows the blood vessels and can cause strokes and heart attacks, angina, heart failure, kidney failure and narrowed leg arteries.
Taking just five minutes to measure your blood pressure could save your life! Your practice nurse or pharmacist can measure your blood pressure, or you can take it yourself at home using a blood pressure monitor.
Click here for a short video by Blood Pressure UK on why you should Know Your Numbers!
How do I know if my blood pressure is too high?
If your blood pressure readings from any setting are consistently above 140/90mmHg you may have high blood pressure. You should get a review at your GP surgery to check. Sustained high blood pressure can damage the heart and increase the risk of stroke.
A few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference..
- eat more fruit and vegetables
- eat less salt
- only drink alcohol in moderation
- lose weight if you need to
- be active
- stop smoking
Even if you don't have high blood pressure, making some simple lifestyle changes may help prevent you developing it in the future.
Check to see if you are at risk of high blood pressure
1 Smoke? Yes No
2 Regularly drink too much (more than 6 pints of beer or 6 small classes of wine a week)? Yes No
3 Eat too much salt as part of your diet Yes No
4 Have a family history of high blood pressure Yes No
5 Not exercise regularly (30 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking, five times a week) Yes No
6 Consider yourself to be overweight (BMI of more than 25 – calculate your BMI). Yes No
Fantastic! It's still worth getting your blood pressure checked as there are often no symptoms of high blood pressure. You can check your blood pressure at home with a machine you can buy from a pharmacy, supermarket or online, or you can check your BP at a pharmacy, or with a practice nurse.
You could be at risk of high blood pressure: you can check yours at home with a machine that you can buy from a pharmacy, supermarket or online, or check your blood pressure at a pharmacy or with your practice nurse. Take a look at our advice about how to reduce your risk of high blood pressure.
You should get your blood pressure checked regularly, at least once every year, as there are lots of different factors that can have an impact on your blood pressure level. If your blood pressure is very high, your doctor is likely to prescribe you medicine to control it and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
We encourage people to check their blood pressure at home for a more accurate reading. It is often more reliable than getting it checked at a hospital clinic or at your GP practice, as people tend to be more relaxed in their own surroundings.
Buying a blood pressure monitor
To measure your blood pressure at home, you will need a home blood pressure monitor. You can buy a blood pressure monitor for as little as £10. If you are buying a blood pressure monitor, make sure it is approved for use in the UK.
To make sure your monitor is accurate, choose one that is accredited (usually stated on the BP machine box) or choose one that has been listed as validated for accuracy by the British Hypertension Society. This means that the digital monitor has gone through a series of tests to make sure it provides reliable results.
Make sure the cuff fits
Measure around your upper arm and choose a monitor that comes with the correct size cuff.
Don't smoke, drink caffeinated beverages or exercise 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure.
Sit with your back straight and supported (eg: on a dining chair rather than a sofa). Your feet should be flat on the floor and legs uncrossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table), with the upper arm at heart level. Make sure the middle of the cuff is placed directly above the eye of the elbow. Check your blood pressure machine`s instructions for an illustration.
Take multiple readings
Take two or three readings one minute apart and record all the results. Use the lowest reading.
Measure at the same time of day
It's important to take the readings at the same time each day (eg morning and evening), or as your healthcare professional recommends.
Accurately record all your results
Record all your readings, including the date and time taken. Remember to take your results with you if you are seeing your practice nurse or GP about your blood pressure. Some monitors have built-in memory to store your readings. If yours does, take it with you to your appointments.
Understand the readings
A healthy blood pressure is usually less than 140/90 mmHg. Find out more about what your blood pressure readings mean below.
Consult your healthcare professional if you get several high readings. A single high reading of blood pressure is not an immediate cause for alarm. However, if you get a high reading, take your blood pressure on several more occasions. If your readings are consistently above 140/90, you can discuss this with your practice nurse or GP.
Blood pressure readings of more than 180/110, are considered to be quite high and so it's recommended that you see your practice nurse or GP that same day if your blood pressure is that high.
High blood pressure
If you consistently have a reading of 140/90 or higher, you may have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases your risk of developing certain health conditions, including heart attacks and strokes.
Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the healthier you are. A healthy blood pressure is normally less than 140/90. If you have high blood pressure, you should be aiming for a reading less than 140/90. Your doctor or specialist may aim for a lower blood pressure if you have diabetes or kidney disease, but for people under the age of 80, 140/90 is a good target.
Multiple blood pressure readings of higher than 180/110 are considered to be significantly raised. If your blood pressure reading does not reduce, you should speak to your GP that day.
Low blood pressure
People with readings of around 100/60 or lower are generally considered to have low blood pressure.
Low blood pressure can sometimes cause dizziness. If you are on treatment to lower your blood pressure, have readings below 100/60 and feel dizzy, you should talk to your practice nurse or GP about reducing your medication.
It is also important to think about low blood pressure when you are feeling ill. If you are on treatment to lower your blood pressure and feeling ill, you can sometimes get dehydrated. Conditions like sickness and diarrhoea can cause dehydration. Dehydration can result in low blood pressure and dizziness, and it can affect your kidneys. It is worth speaking to your GP if this affects you as it might be sensible to reduce some of your blood pressure medicine until your blood pressure returns to normal and you are no longer dehydrated.
Hypertension: so you’ve been told your blood pressure is too high?
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is one of the most common health problems in the UK, affecting over a quarter of people in England.
Estimates suggest that more than 41,000 people in Birmingham and Solihull have undiagnosed high blood pressure.
High blood pressure doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms but, if left untreated, it can cause significant damage to arteries and organs. The narrowing of the arteries, for example, can cause strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, angina, kidney failure and narrowing of the leg arteries.
If your blood pressure is high, your doctor is likely to prescribe you a medicine to control it. This will reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Most people require two or three medicines to reduce their blood pressure to recommended levels. It is sometime more effective to use two or more drugs which work on different areas of the body to reduce blood pressure and minimise the risk of side effects.
Trying to be more active, losing weight if you are overweight, limiting salt and alcohol can all improve blood pressure – sometimes as much as taking one additional blood pressure medicine and with additional health benefits!
Read more about how to help prevent high blood pressure.
For many people, the usual target reading for blood pressure is below 140/90 mmHg.
However, your doctor may recommend a lower target if you have heart or circulatory disease, including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack or stroke, diabetes or kidney disease.
Every blood pressure reading consists of two numbers or measurements. They are shown as one number on top of the other and measured in mmHg, which means millimetres of mercury.
If your reading is 120/80mmHg, for example, you might hear your doctor or nurse say your blood pressure is "120 over 80".
The first (or top) number represents the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart contracts and pumps blood through your arteries - your systolic blood pressure.
The second (or bottom) number represents the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats - your diastolic blood pressure.
A good way to monitor your blood pressure is by checking it at home. Blood pressure machines can be bought from most pharmacies and supermarkets. Upper arm blood pressure machines are recommended rather than wrist machines.
If you have an irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation) some of the standard blood pressure monitors may not be accurate. Therefore, you need to check that any device used to check your blood pressure is appropriate.
Here is a list of blood pressure machines validated by the British and Irish Hypertension Society. You could also ask your local community pharmacy (chemist) to measure your blood pressure; while some GP surgeries have free-to-use self-service blood pressure monitors in waiting rooms.