Do you ‘Know your Numbers’?

Guest Blog by Katharine Jenner, Chief Executive at Blood Pressure UK

High blood pressure is the UK’s biggest silent killer with 16 million people in the country suffering from the condition.

Worryingly though, as it is symptomless, only half of these people are aware they have the condition which means they are putting themselves at high risk of having a stroke or a heart attack as it is responsible for 60% of strokes and 40% of heart attacks. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for kidney disease and dementia.

That’s why UK charity Blood Pressure UK has it’s annual flagship awareness campaign, Know your Numbers! Week – the nation’s largest annual blood pressure testing and awareness event. It encourages adults across the UK to know their blood pressure numbers and take the necessary action to reach and maintain a healthy blood pressure.  Last year it provided free checks, information and advice for around 250,000 adults across the UK on simple steps to keep blood pressure under control.

Anne Zak_Heart Centre 2013 (C) Gary SchwartzThis year’s campaign takes place from 14-20 September and the charity is encouraging people to or check themselves at home, in a pharmacy or GP surgery or visit one of the hundreds of Pressure Stations across the UK to get their blood pressure checked. Knowing Your Numbers is quick, free, painless and could save your life – giving you one less thing to worry about.

What is high blood pressure?

You probably have high blood pressure (hypertension) if your blood pressure readings are consistently 140 over 90, or higher, over a number of weeks. You may also have the condition if just one of the numbers is higher than it should be over a number of weeks.

If you have high blood pressure, this higher pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. Over time, this extra strain increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke but by lowering blood pressure you reduce the likelihood of this happening.

However even at lower levels you could still be at risk.  Any intervention that would lower blood pressure in the general population, even by small amounts, is likely to be of immense benefit in preventing both strokes and heart attacks.

What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have yours measured. However, a single high reading does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. Many things can affect your blood pressure through the day, so your doctor will take a number of blood pressure readings to see that it stays high over time.

Occasionally people with very high blood pressure say they experience headaches, but it is best to visit your GP if you are concerned about symptoms.

What causes high blood pressure?

For most people, there may be no single cause for their high blood pressure. We do not know exactly what causes high blood pressure but we do know that your lifestyle can affect your risk of developing it. You are at a higher risk if:

– you eat too much salt
– you don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables
– you are not active enough
– you are overweight; or
-you drink too much alcohol.

Lower your blood pressure

Your diet, exercise levels and weight have a real effect on your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you can start lowering it today by eating more healthily and being more active.

Your bloodBPtest pressure readings are what you eat. A healthy, balanced diet will keep you full of energy, and less salt (throw away the salt shaker!) and more potassium from fruit and veg will lower your blood pressure.  To help lower blood pressure, adults should eat at least 5 different portions of fruit and vegetables per day. A portion is 80 grams, or roughly the size of your fist.

No need to cut out alcohol completely if you enjoy a nice glass of red at the end of the day – recent research has shown that drinking a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer a day could in fact lower the risk of heart failure – although the researchers warn that any more than that increased the risk of death over all.

We recommend you follow NHS guidance until more is known: Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.

Being more active and taking regular exercise lowers blood pressure by keeping your heart and arteries in good condition. There is now strong evidence that even a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive – a 20 minute brisk walk each day would take an individual from the ‘inactive’ to ‘moderately inactive’ group, and reduce their risk of premature death by between 16 to 30 per cent.

Being the right weight lowers blood pressure because your heart doesn’t have to work so hard and will help to reduce your blood pressure and heart strain.

If you have high blood pressure, you need to take action to bring it down.  Currently there is no cure for high blood pressure, this means that if you start taking medicines, you will probably need to keep taking them for life.  However, the more you can lower your blood pressure without medicines, the less blood pressure medicine you will need.

KJ BP test_Heart Centre 2013 (C) Gary SchwartzThere is a wide range of high blood pressure medicines, you can take more than one type of medicine because they each lower your blood pressure in different ways.

The good new is that if detected, high blood pressure can be successfully managed and returned to a healthy level which is why it is so important for every adult to know their blood pressure numbers and get themselves checked.

Did you know that in the time it takes to boil a kettle, you could have taken a home blood pressure reading? For more information and to find your nearest station please visit


About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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