Know Your Numbers Week is taking place between 6 and 12 September 2021.
This yearly event encourages people to get their blood pressure checked, in order to identify those who have undiagnosed and uncontrolled high blood pressure. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, usually does not present with any symptoms. According to bloodpressureuk.org, around a third of people in the UK have high blood pressure, but most are unaware of the problem.
In previous years, the campaign encouraged people to visit local test sites at hospitals, gyms, supermarkets, and medical centres for a free blood pressure check. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year there are no community testing stations, but instead people are being encouraged to buy or borrow a monitor and check their blood pressure at home.
Using a home blood pressure monitor means people can take their own readings and check the results against one of the many useful guides online to see whether they have high blood pressure.
Blood pressure readings give two figures (for example, 120/80), and are measured in mmHg, or millimetres of mercury. This represents the level of pressure the blood is exerting. The first number is your systolic blood pressure, and the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart pumps blood around your body while the second number is your diastolic blood pressure, and is the lowest level of pressure, when your heart relaxes between beats.
The guidelines state that blood pressure between 90/60 and 120/80 is ideal. From 121/81 to 139/89 is considered pre-high blood pressure, and anything from 140/90 upwards is high blood pressure. To be considered high blood pressure, only one of the numbers needs to be higher than it should be, not both.
A single high reading doesn’t necessarily mean someone has hypertension, so it is important to check your blood pressure more than once. Factors such as temperature and stress can increase blood pressure. A common problem, known as ‘white coat hypertension’, is when someone has high blood pressure because they are stressed about being in a clinical environment and having their blood pressure checked. Testing at home can help to combat this.
Having a home blood pressure monitor allows people to take responsibility for their own health by checking their blood pressure regularly. If someone suspects they have hypertension after home testing, they can seek appropriate advice, and, if necessary, treatment.
Hypertension causes damage to blood vessels and can lead to strokes and heart disease. It is a major risk factor for heart attacks, kidney disease, diabetes, dementia, and problems with eyesight. Testing is really important because, due to the lack of symptoms, people often only become aware they have high blood pressure after they have suffered one of these life-changing problems.
Men are at greater risk of hypertension than women. There are also lifestyle risk factors, including:
Hypertension can often be managed by addressing these risk factors, and altering diet and lifestyle. In certain cases, however, lifestyle changes will not be enough, and medication will be required. As with most conditions, the earlier hypertension is treated, the better the outcome and the less damage there is likely to be.
Sarah Hibberd, associate in Penningtons Manches Cooper’s clinical negligence team said: “Sadly, we deal with many cases involving strokes and heart attacks, some of which could have been avoided with timely diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure. Often cardiac and stroke patients experience life changing injuries which require extensive ongoing treatment, and a huge number of these cases could be prevented. We would encourage everyone to get to ‘know your numbers’ and check your blood pressure regularly so that you can seek advice and treatment if you have any concerns.”