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Health Matters - Know Your Numbers

Health Matters - Know Your Numbers
13 September 2017

Dr Paul Bowen, clinical chair of NHS Eastern Cheshire CCG, and GP with McIlvride Medical Practice, Poynton

Know Your Numbers Week runs from 18 to 24 September and is the UK's biggest blood pressure testing and awareness event.

High blood pressure is called the silent killer because it has no symptoms. Therefore, the only way to know if you are at risk from a stroke or heart disease is to have a blood pressure check. 

You can help stop stroke and heart disease by finding out your blood pressure numbers at a pressure station near you during Know Your Numbers Week. Visit www.bloodpressureuk.org and follow the links.

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as:

  • heart disease and heart attacks
  • strokes
  • heart failure
  • kidney disease
  • vascular dementia.

If you have high blood pressure, reducing it even a small amount can help lower your risk of these conditions.

It's not always clear what causes high blood pressure but certain things can increase your risk. You're at an increased risk if you:

  • are over the age of 65
  • are overweight or obese
  • are of African or Caribbean descent
  • have a relative with high blood pressure
  • eat too much salt and don't eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • don't do enough exercise
  • drink too much alcohol or caffeine-based drinks
  • smoke
  • don't get much sleep or have disturbed sleep.

The following lifestyle changes can help prevent and lower high blood pressure:

  • reduce the amount of salt you eat and have a generally healthy diet
  • cut back on alcohol if you drink too much
  • lose weight if you're overweight
  • exercise regularly
  • cut down on caffeine
  • stop smoking
  • try to get at least six hours of sleep a night.

Salt raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure. Aim to eat less than 6g (0.2oz) of salt a day, which is about a teaspoonful. Eating a low-fat diet that includes lots of fibre – such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta – and plenty of fruit and vegetables also helps lower blood pressure. Aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Regularly drinking alcohol above recommended limits can raise your blood pressure over time. Staying within these recommended levels is the best way to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week.

Alcohol is also high in calories, which will make you gain weight and can further increase your blood pressure.