Everything you need to know about your blood pressure

What’s low? What’s high? And what counts as normal? Plus, the free blood pressure test you can get nationwide at Priceline Pharmacy.

By BTYB Priceline Pharmacy

What exactly is 'blood pressure'?

Blood pressure refers to the measurement of the pressure your blood puts on your artery walls as it's pumped around the body by the heart. Your blood pressure level is constantly changing depending on what your heart and body needs at any given time. Your blood pressure can be influenced by anything from your breathing to whether you've just eaten, and even your emotional state.
In fact, your blood pressure changes by the second — blood pressure is at its highest point when the heart beats, pumping out blood to your arteries, and at its lowest between beats, as the heart rests and re-fills with blood. The measurement of the highest pressure is known as a systolic reading, while the lowest is your diastolic reading, and the two are presented together to give your overall blood pressure.

So what's normal? And what's high?

While the ideal blood pressure will vary from person to person, as a guide, a blood pressure reading of 120/80mmHg or under is considered optimal and healthy, according to the Heart Foundation. Readings between 120/80mmHg and 139/89mmHg are in the normal to high normal range. (NB: 'Hg' represents the elemental symbol for mercury, as blood pressure is technically a measurement of the pressure the heart uses to push a single column of mercury in the blood.)
A reading of 140/90mmHg and above is considered high, and when a person has a consistently high reading they're considered to have high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension.
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Can blood pressure be too low?

Yes, low blood pressure (hypotension) is when a person's blood pressure reading falls below 90/60mmHg. In otherwise fit and healthy people who don't have any symptoms, low blood pressure is generally not a concern, and paired with a slow and steady pulse can actually be a sign of fitness.
However, in the elderly, low blood pressure can often lead to an inadequate flow of blood to the vital organ and may contribute to an increase in falls due to dizziness, that is why the elderly need regular monitoring. Extremes in blood pressure (most commonly too low) are also common during pregnancy, and should be monitored by a doctor.
A sudden drop in blood pressure can occur when standing or sitting up suddenly (often in the morning, or when getting out of a bath, for example), but in healthy people, will regulate relatively quickly as the body adjusts. However, a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure that doesn't stabilise can be life-threatening, as the body can go into shock, which is a potentially fatal state.

Why is high blood pressure so dangerous?

Consistently high blood pressure can lead to heart attack and heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and even loss of vision, so it's vital to not only have your blood pressure checked regularly. You should work with your Doctor and make it a priority to get your blood pressure under control.
With cardiovascular disease responsible for one death every 12 minutes, and one in six of us expected to have a stroke in our lifetime (for which hypertension is the lead cause), high blood pressure is a huge concern in Australia. While the most recent statistics showed that 2.6 million people reported having hypertension (11.3 per cent of the population), an estimated quarter of Australian adults had not had their blood pressure checked. In 2016, as part of the Australia’s Biggest Blood Pressure Check initiative, it was reported that one in three people tested were urgently referred to their doctor for advice on how to lower their blood pressure and decrease the risk of stroke and heart attack.

So how do I know if I have it?

The problem is that high blood pressure rarely has tell-tale signs or symptoms, so you often won't be able to tell you have it. As we age, our risk of high blood pressure goes up, however it's entirely possible to have high blood pressure at a relatively young age, often due to health and lifestyle factors such as being overweight, alcohol intake, high salt intake, and lack of physical activity. It occurs more commonly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and those with a family history. Some medicines can also raise your blood pressure considerably.
The best way to tell if your blood pressure is too high is to have it measured by a doctor, pharmacist or health practitioner — you can get a free check at your nearest Priceline Pharmacy between May 18 and June 14 as part of Australia's Biggest Blood Pressure Check. A pharmacist will also discuss your health and lifestyle habits with you, and depending on your result may provide some advice, or refer you to a doctor, and let you know how often to return for future checks. Anyone can have a check, especially women on the contraceptive pill, in fact anyone on any medicine. If you're 45 or over you should have an initial check as soon as possible (then follow your doctor's advice for scheduling future checks), and likewise if you're an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person aged 35 or over. If that's you, what are you waiting for?
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