You should have noticed that there is a new addition to the waiting room. Nicely tucked away in the corner is an automated BP machine.
Simply insert your arm press a button and a few seconds later a ticket is printed with your blood pressure. So far its been a great success with our staff who have been very curious and interested in their own blood pressures.
Sadly its not been such a success with our patients. I put this down to shyness, even I waited until the end of my surgery before venturing out. So this article is about making you aware of how important it is to know your blood pressure.
Like a can of Ronseal your blood pressure is what it says on the outside of the can, the pressure of blood in your arteries. Your heart is simply a pump which pumps blood all the way around you body through a series of tubes. The tubes leading away from the heart are arteries and, not surprisingly, are under high pressure sufficient to pump the blood to and through all the organs and vessels in your body right down to the minute capillaries which are so small that your red cells have to squeeze through them. The blood is returned to the heart through the low pressure venous system.
If you cut an artery bright red oxygenated blood spurts out under high pressure, if you severe a vein darker blood lacking oxygen oozes out. The system works phenomenally well beating a staggering 3 billion times in an average life time!!
Up and down
Your blood pressure varies all the time, which is why we often ask patients to lend one of our automated machines and record a series of readings at home. If you exercise or are feeling stressed you produce more adrenalin and your blood pressure goes up. If you’re relaxed or asleep it goes down. But if the pressure in the system is too high then the arteries may be overstretched causing the inner lining to crack and sometimes block off with debris or in a worst case scenario to break, much like a burst pipe.
The good news is that this weakening of the arteries does not occur instantly it takes years of pressure to cause any weakness. Which means that if you know your blood pressure we can prevent the consequences of a burst or blocked artery. The two organs which have the most catastrophic consequences of their blood supply being compromised are the heart and the brain, resulting in a heart attack or a stroke.
At present we cannot predict who will definitely have a stroke or heart attack if their blood pressure is not treated and who can be safely left alone. All that we can do is to inform people about their risk. This risk, in turn, is not solely linked to blood pressure, so one person with marginally raised blood pressure may not need treatment with tablets where as someone else might.
There are some risk factors over which you have no control, such as your age, race, sex or family history. However other factors are very much under your control such as smoking, lack of exercise, a raised cholesterol or an unhealthy diet. Anyone whose systolic blood pressure (the highest pressure in the arteries) in over 145mmHg or whose diastolic (the lowest pressure) is over 85mmHg would benefit from reducing their blood pressure.
Initially we would advise you to lose weight (if you’re overweight), exercise more, reduce your salt and alcohol intake as well as addressing any other risk factors. If these measures are unsuccessful then you should see your doctor or nurse.