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What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body.

How is blood pressure measured?

To find out your blood pressure, two measurements are recorded during a single heartbeat:
• The level of pressure when your heart pumps blood through your arteries and around your body (systolic pressure): this is when the pressure is highest, and
• The level of pressure when your heart is resting before it pumps again (diastolic pressure): this is when the pressure is lowest.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The readings are given as two numbers or levels. The systolic reading is first, followed by the diastolic reading. For example, if your systolic reading is 120mmHg and your diastolic reading is 80mmHg, your blood pressure is 120 over 80. This is commonly written as 120/80.

Is my blood pressure high, normal or low?

Blood pressure can be high, normal or low. If you consistently have a reading of 140/90 or higher, you may have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases your risk of developing some health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the healthier you are. As a general guide, the ideal blood pressure for a young healthy adult is 120/80 or lower. However, it’s possible to have abnormally low blood pressure. People with a reading of around 90/60 or lower are generally considered to have low blood pressure. For some people with low blood pressure, there may be an underlying cause that could need treatment.

Risks of high blood pressure (hypertension)

Having high blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. Over time, this can weaken your heart. The increased pressure can also damage the walls of your arteries, causing them to be blocked or an artery wall to weaken and split (aneurysm).

This can lead to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (a general term that describes a disease of the heart arteries), for example:
• Coronary heart disease: the main arteries supplying your heart become clogged up with fatty deposits
• Stroke: where the blood supply to your brain is interrupted
• Heart attack: where the blood supply to your heart is blocked

Treating low blood pressure

If you have low blood pressure but no symptoms, you don’t need treatment. If you do have symptoms, your GP will try to find the cause and assess whether treatment will help. They will also give you advice to help limit your symptoms. Few people are prescribed medication for low blood pressure.
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