As the 50+ age group could have any number of health issues ticking away undetected, it’s best to “Know Your Numbers”. This is particularly important for items like cholesterol and blood pressure. It is one of the best ways to safeguard yourself, giving you and your family peace of mind.
Blood Pressure UK has designated this week as Know Your Numbers week to raise awareness and help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Each year they encourage people to pop along to a local Pressure Station for a free test.
Unfortunately this year (2021) due to the Covid restrictions, they are unable to go ahead with their pressure stations and are advising people to try to conduct a test at home with a blood pressure monitor. If you would like to find out more, you can follow the link to their website.
Blood pressure, in its most simple terms, refers to the force that your heart exerts in order to pump blood around the body. It varies continually throughout the day, depending on a number of factors – most notably, whether you’re at rest or in a state of exertion.
Both high and low blood pressure can have implications when it comes to your health, so it’s important to understand your blood pressure readings, and know how to improve it, if required.
Blood Pressure Testing: How is it Measured?
Your blood pressure test actually consists of two measurements, not one. The first measures the level of pressure when your heart pumps blood through the arteries and around the body. This reading, which measures systolic pressure, is when your heart is working at its hardest, and the pressure is at its highest.
The other reading is the level of pressure when the heart is at rest, between pumps. This is when the pressure is at its lowest and is referred to as diastolic pressure.
As a result, your reading will always feature two numbers, not one. Your blood pressure is measured in mmHg, which is millimetres of mercury, and the systolic, or higher pressure reading is always first, followed by the diastolic, or lower reading.
What is ‘Normal’?
An ideal systolic blood pressure is 120 or below, though too far below could indicate low blood pressure, which is also a problem. If your systolic reading ranges between 120 and 139, this means that you are in the ‘borderline’ category, and that your blood pressure is higher than desirable.
If, however, your reading is 140 or higher, this is considered to be hypertension, or clinically high blood pressure.
A diastolic blood pressure result of 80 is considered normal. If it’s between 80 and 89, it is higher than ideal; if it is 90 or higher, again, this is a sign of hypertension.
So, for example, if you have a blood pressure reading of 120/80, this indicates that your blood pressure is perfectly normal. If you have a reading of 140/90, you’re recognised as having hypertension, which can increase your risk of heart disease and other related conditions.
Home Monitoring or Doctor’s Surgery: Which is Better?
Most people, when they want to have their blood pressure checked, visit their GP. However, there are a wide range of home blood pressure monitors available to buy, which can prove useful to those who want to keep tabs on their health from the comfort of their own home.
Indeed, according to recent research undertaken at the University of Leuven in Belgium, home blood pressure monitors are particularly useful for patients who have slightly elevated blood pressure, as it enables easier and more accurate assessment of the condition.
Know the Variables
Of course, when measuring your blood pressure, it’s important to be aware of the variables affecting it. Your blood pressure may vary considerably throughout the day, and this is especially important to bear in mind if you’re measuring your blood pressure using a home testing kit. Age, fitness and pre-existing medical conditions can affect the results, as can stress, levels of activity and lack of sleep.
What about monitoring your cholesterol levels?
Cholesterol is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer”. In fact, according to Heart UK, the cholesterol charity, approximately half of all heart attacks are caused by high cholesterol. It’s also one of the main causes of stroke.
Even more alarmingly, according to statistics site Cardiac Matters, 60% of adults in the UK have high cholesterol. In short, cholesterol-related heart problems are costing the NHS billions each year, and the situation is also costing lives.
By clicking on the video below, you can listen to Dr Chris talking about the importance of this subject.
Getting to Grips with Cholesterol
Astonishingly, despite its prevalence in our society, most people remain relatively unaware as to what cholesterol actually is, and how it can impact health.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made in your liver, but is also present in many foods. Contrary to popular opinion, cholesterol actually has a really important purpose in the body – promoting healthy cell functioning, and also helping with the production of vitamin D, digestive bile and certain hormones.
It’s when there is too much cholesterol in the blood that the problems occur. However, it’s important to know that not all cholesterols are created equal. HDL, or High Density Lipoprotein cholesterol, is actually good for you. However, LDL, or Low Density Lipoprotein cholesterol, known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, is the type that can clog up arteries, reducing blood flow, and increasing the risk of heart disease and other related conditions.
Cholesterol Tests: Understanding the Numbers
In the case of cholesterol, ignorance definitely isn’t bliss; it’s important to not only get regularly tested, but to understand the numbers and what they indicate.
Cholesterol testing is a fairly straightforward process, and involves either a blood sample taken from a vein, normally in the arm, or a pinprick test. A pinprick test can be used to determine how much total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol you have in your blood. A venous sample can provide additional information on non-HDL cholesterol levels and triglyceride concentrations. Triglycerides are types of fats found in dairy produce, cooking oils and meats.
In order to be considered healthy, you should have:
- Total cholesterol levels of 5mmol/ L or less
- LDL (bad) cholesterol level of 3mmol/L or less
- Non-HDL cholesterol level of 4mmol/L or less
- Fasting triglyceride level of 2mmol/L or less
- Non-fasting triglyceride level of 4mmol/L or less
If you are on cholesterol reducing medication, have inherited high cholesterol, or are between the age of 40 and 75, you’re entitled to a free NHS cholesterol test. Simply talk to your GP about arranging one.
What Happens if Your Levels are High?
If your cholesterol levels are higher than they should be, your doctor will ascertain a target level of cholesterol, taking into account factors such as age and any existing health conditions. You may be prescribed some medication to help lower your cholesterol, such as statins, aspirin or niacin, and it’s likely that you’ll be advised to make some changes to your diet.
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, it’s important to arrange to speak with your GP.
For advice on how to lower your blood pressure, please click on the link below to read our tips:
Finally, we would urge as many people as possible to join the “Know your Numbers” campaign. Only by being properly informed can you make the right lifestyle choices to keep as healthy as you possibly can.