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The Menopause Exchange Blog

BLOOD PRESSURE – THE SILENT KILLER

We don’t only cover menopause – related topics in our newsletter.  We cover general health topics too – anything that will be of interest to women of menopausal age.

Almost one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure – that’s around 16 million people. In addition, over five million adults have high blood pressure but don’t know it. That’s because high blood pressure doesn’t have any symptoms, which is why the condition is known as the silent killer.

This article was included in issue 79 (winter 2018/2019) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

About blood pressure
If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on with blood pressure, here’s what happens in your body. When your heart beats, it pumps blood round your body to give the tissues energy and oxygen. As your blood moves along, it pushes against the sides of the blood vessels. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your arteries and your heart.

According to Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Blood Pressure UK, high blood pressure kills thousands of people every year in the UK and is almost entirely preventable. “As an individual, having your blood pressure checked is the most important step you can take to reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack or heart failure,” he says.

Everyone should get their blood pressure checked, either by their GP or using a home blood pressure monitor. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80mmHg (measured in millimetres of mercury). If your blood pressure is normal, the standard advice is to have it checked every five years. But after you reach the age of 50, you should have your blood pressure checked every year. That’s because as you get older, the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle can build up and your blood pressure can increase, so some people are likely to develop high blood pressure as they get older. The quicker the readings are picked up, the sooner you can do something about it.

Whatever your age, if you’ve had a blood pressure reading that’s on the high side of normal (between 130/85 and 139/89), or if you have diabetes, it’s best to get your blood pressure checked every year. If your blood pressure is high (above 140/90), your GP or another healthcare professional will advise you what to do.

High blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) can be treated with medicines prescribed by your GP. But you should also eat less salt (especially if you have high blood pressure). If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. So the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be. You can also try to lower your blood pressure by:
Eating more fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre to keep your body in good condition. They also contain potassium, which helps to balance out the negative effects of salt. This has a direct effect on your blood pressure, helping to lower it.
Being more active. Taking regular exercise helps to lower your blood pressure by keeping your heart and arteries in good condition. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
Being the right weight. This lowers blood pressure because your heart doesn’t have to work so hard. Losing weight, if you need to, will help to reduce your blood pressure and heart strain.
Drinking too much alcohol. This will raise your blood pressure over time. Alcohol also contains a lot of calories which will make you gain weight and, therefore, increase your blood pressure. If you stick to the recommended limits for alcohol, this will help to keep your blood pressure down. The current recommended limits are 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women.

Low blood pressure
Some people have a blood pressure level that’s lower than normal. Many people worry about low blood pressure (hypotension), but probably don’t need to. In general, this may be good news because the lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk of stroke or heart disease. But, in a few cases, having low blood pressure can cause problems.

A low blood pressure reading is 90/60mmHg or lower. Only one of the numbers has to be lower than it should be to count as low blood pressure. In other words:

  •  if the top number is 90 or less (regardless of the bottom number), you may have low blood pressure.
  •  if the bottom number is 60 or less (regardless of the top number), you may have low blood pressure.

Usually, having low blood pressure isn’t anything to worry about. But sometimes your blood pressure can drop to a point where you feel faint or dizzy. If your blood pressure is suddenly much lower than usual, there may be a reason behind this. So speak to your doctor or nurse.

HRT and blood pressure
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) contains oestrogen. Oestrogen can increase blood pressure in women, which is why some forms of the contraceptive pill can raise blood pressure. But there’s still some debate over whether there’s a link between HRT and a rise in blood pressure. Research has shown that older women who were taking HRT and who also had heart disease or had experienced a stroke were slightly more likely to have further heart problems than women who weren’t taking HRT. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, your doctor or other healthcare professional is unlikely to recommend that you take HRT, unless you’re suffering from very severe menopausal symptoms. If this is the case, then you should only take HRT after a discussion with an appropriate specialist.

If you decide to take HRT, it’s important to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as this will reduce your overall risk of stroke or heart attack. This means not smoking, being the right weight for your height, eating a low-salt, low-fat diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and being as active as possible. If you have high blood pressure and you’re taking HRT, have your blood pressure checked every few months. If you don’t have high blood pressure and are taking HRT, you should also have your blood pressure checked regularly, as this may rise during the menopause or as you get older.

For more information
For information about lowering your blood pressure, visit Blood Pressure UK’s website (www.bloodpressureuk.org) or call its part-time helpline on 020 7882 6218.

Created Winter 2018/2019

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