Do you know your blood pressure numbers? High blood pressure is known as a silent killer and getting your blood pressure checked is the only way that you can find out if it's high. It could save your life.
Blood pressure is the term used to describe the strength with which your blood pushes on the sides of your arteries as it is pumped around your body.
If this pressure is too high (hypertension), it puts extra strain on the arteries and the heart, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Blood pressure is measured in 'millimetres of mercury' (mmHg) and is written as two numbers, shown as one number on top of the other.
The top number (systolic number) is the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats, and the bottom number (diastolic number) is the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats. For example, your blood pressure might be 120/80mmHg, or '120 over 80'.
High blood pressure and health
High blood pressure is the main risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease. There is also increasing evidence that it is a risk factor for vascular dementia.
Around 16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure - which is a level consistently at or above 140mmHg/90mmHg.
Approximately a quarter of people with high blood pressure do not know that they have it - that's around 5 million adults in England. High blood pressure rarely has any symptoms, so the only way for people to know if they have the condition is to have their blood pressure measured.
People who are more likely to have high blood pressure include people over the age of 55, people from the most deprived communities, people of African Caribbean descent and people of South Asian origin who are more prone to other vascular conditions.
People with high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke and twice as likely to die from these conditions as people with normal blood pressure.
In fact, there are more than 60,000 unnecessary deaths from stroke and heart attacks due to poor blood pressure control, which is why it's so important to diagnose high blood pressure early.
What can you do to control blood pressure?
You can reduce your blood pressure, and therefore reduce your risk of developing some serious long-term health problems such as heart attacks and stroke, by making simple lifestyle changes. These include eating a balanced diet (including reducing your salt intake), being more physically active and cutting down on alcohol.
Some people can bring down their blood pressure by making lifestyle changes, while others need to use medication. If your doctor recommends treatment to bring your blood pressure down, it's important to take your medication as prescribed in conjunction with healthier lifestyle changes.
Tools to help you remember to take your medication and home blood pressure monitors are available at local pharmacies. If you are between 40-74 years old you are eligible for a free NHS Health Check to evaluate your health and lifestyle with the help of a professional.
Where to get a check
People who don't have high blood pressure should get it checked at least once every five years. However, as you get older your blood pressure is likely to increase and it is best to get it checked more often - every year is ideal. This is also true for anyone who has a higher than normal reading. This blood pressure tool can help you find out what your blood pressure numbers mean.
There are many different places that offer free blood pressure checks, including:
• GP surgeries (by a GP, practice nurse, healthcare assistant or self-service machine)
• As part of the NHS Health Check for adults aged 40 - 74 in England
• In some workplaces
• Health events at local community centres or supermarkets
• At home using a home blood pressure monitor
And because this week is Know Your Numbers week, run by Blood Pressure UK, there will be hundreds of free blood pressure tests and information at venues throughout local communities including pharmacies, workplaces, GP surgeries, hospitals, health clubs, leisure centres, shopping centres and supermarkets.
So look out for your local Pressure Station this week and get to know your numbers with a free blood pressure check.