The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured. If you are over 30, you should have your blood pressure checked every two or three years.
What is high blood pressure?
About half of Irish adults over 50 years of age have high blood pressure. Blood pressure shows the amount of work your heart has to do to pump blood around the body. Two numbers measure the level of blood pressure. One records blood pressure at its highest as the heart muscle squeezes out the blood from the heart – this is called systolic pressure. Then the heart relaxes, which allows the blood to flow back into the heart – this is called diastolic pressure.
What is a normal level of blood pressure?
The normal level of blood pressure is usually about 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic), but this can vary with age, how you feel and your level of activity. If your blood pressure is higher than 140 over 90, you should discuss this with your doctor. One high reading does not necessarily mean you have seriously high blood pressure. Your doctor will usually want to check your blood pressure several times, before deciding whether or not you have high blood pressure.
What causes high blood pressure?
A number of factors combine to cause high blood pressure. These include include age, family history, eating too much salt, not eating enough fruit and vegetables, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, not doing enough physical activity, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol.
If you have been prescribed medication for high blood pressure, you will usually have to take it for life. Medication that lowers blood pressure prevents early ageing of the blood vessels and heart thereby reducing your risk of stroke.
Stopping smoking will almost halve your chances of having a stroke regardless of how long you have been a smoker, or how old you are. Within 24 hours of stopping smoking, the chance of you suffering a stroke begins to fall.
Healthy eating can reduce your risk of stroke. Aim to eat a wide variety of foods.
Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes – all of which increase stroke risk. Even losing a small amount of excess weight, say 10% can help lower your blood pressure. Aim for a gradual weight loss of one to two pounds a week and watch the size of your food portions. The best way to lose weight is to cut down on the amount of fat, sugar, sweet foods and sugary drinks and aim to be more physically active.
If you do drink, spread your drinking over the week, keep some days alcohol-free and do not drink more than the recommended upper limits: for men 21 standard drinks a week. For women, 14 standard drinks a week. Remember that alcohol is a drug and may be a risk for other health problems.
1 standard drink (10 grams of alcohol)
= one half pint of beer, stout or lager
= one small glass of wine
= one pub measure of spirits (whiskey, vodka or gin)
If you have diabetes you have a greater risk of stroke. Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too high. Insulin, a hormone produced by your body, helps controls your blood glucose. If your body does not produce enough insulin (described as Type 1 diabetes) or when your body does not respond as well to insulin (described as Type 2 diabetes). Prevent or manage diabetes by watching your diet, being more physically active, controlling your weight and managing your blood pressure.
Regular physical activity helps lower blood pressure, keeps cholesterol at a healthy level, prevents blood clotting, maintains a healthy weight and controls blood sugar levels.
How much activity?
To reduce your risk of stroke all adults and older people need to be active for at least thirty minutes five days a week, at a moderate intensity. Moderate intensity activity causes an increase in breathing and heart rate, similar to a brisk walk. You can break up your minutes of activity throughout the day for example 2x 15 minutes – 15 minutes walking, 15 minutes dancing. If you are breaking up your minutes of activity each session needs to be for 10 minutes or longer to get the health benefits.
To lose weight
To lose weight, you need to do more physical activity than is recommended for adults at a healthy weight. Aim to be active for at least 60 -75 minutes per day at a moderate intensity.
Tips for being more active
The link between stress and stroke is complex and not fully understood. If you feel stressed, your blood will produce more hormones. Although useful in small amounts, too many of these hormones continuously and over time, can damage your blood vessels and may lead to high blood pressure. Also when life becomes pressurised, you are more like likely to smoke more cigarettes, drink more caffeine, drink too much alcohol and be less physically active. All of these increase your risk of stroke.
Types of stressors
Many life events such as moving house, changing jobs, redundancy, family problems and bereavement can cause stress. Daily hassles such as being stuck in traffic, deadlines or conflicts can also cause stress. Identify your stressors and learn to manage them as best you can or talk to a professional.