Today marks the start of Know Your Numbers Week, the UK's biggest blood pressure testing and awareness event.
Sometimes it’s really important that your numbers add up.
Nowhere is this more true than with your blood pressure.
That’s why this week the charity Blood Pressure UK has launched its Know Your Numbers Week.
This annual event is designed to encourage people to know their blood pressure numbers. It promotes both testing and awareness so that people can be alerted and take action if they have high blood pressure.
Known as hypertension, high blood pressure is referred to as the “silent killer.”
This is because it has no symptoms and yet is a key indicator of risk for conditions like heart attacks (myocardial infarction) and coronary heart disease. People with high blood pressure are also more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and kidney disease.
This year the campaign is focusing on the increased risk of a stroke. Blood Pressure UK reports that hypertension causes around 60% of all strokes. It adds that some 90% of strokes are preventable.
If your blood pressure reading is 140/90 or more, then you have hypertension.
But what do those numbers mean?
The first, higher number, is your systolic blood pressure. This refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart is contracting – beating and pushing blood out.
The second is your diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure when your heart is between beats.
An ideal blood pressure would be 120 (systolic) over 90 (diastolic).
If your numbers fall below 90/60 then you will be suffering form low blood pressure. This is known as hypotension.
Whilst genetic factors and ageing can be at play, hypertension is often a result of lifestyle choices.
This is good news – because it means we can do things to reduce our blood pressure and the risk of suffering associated health conditions.
In short we can take better care of ourselves, eating healthier foods, drinking less alcohol and caffeine and taking regular exercise.
So, we can pursue a nutritious diet, keeping an eye on our salt intake and pursuing our five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.
We can get out and about, taking a brisk walk to get the heart pumping. There’s no need to go mad. If you nip out on your lunch break and take a stiff stroll – enough to get your heart rate up so that you can walk and talk, but not sing.
We can go easy on the booze. The professionals recommend drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol weekly. That, says the NHS, is equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine.
If you’re supping more, then consider cutting back and going for low or no alcohol alternatives.
It almost goes without saying – but we will anyway – if you smoke, then look to quit. Smoking is not only a risk factor for high blood pressure but many other serious health conditions.
Many private medical insurance policies can help you identify if you have high blood pressure. Regular health checks and screenings will typically involve a blood pressure test.
If you require treatment for high blood pressure, this would normally be provided by the NHS. Treatment usually involves prescription of one or more medicines to help manage your blood pressure.
Sometimes – but not typically – health insurance can provide access to medicines which are not available on the NHS because they have not been approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence or the Scottish Medicines Consortium.
However the benefits included in many private health insurance policies can help you take steps to prevent development of high blood pressure.
Many policies – including selected schemes offered by Aviva, AXA PPP, BUPA and Vitality – incorporate wellbeing programmes.
Among the benefits these can provide is access to expert lifestyle advice. This can provide guidance on things like how to eat more nutritious foods and aerobic exercises which promote a healthier heart.
They can also encourage us to become more active by offering discounted gym memberships.
For more information on Know Your Numbers Week 2017, click here.