In New Zealand, 62 percent of people admitted to hospital for a heart attack have high blood pressure.
But what is high blood pressure and what do those numbers we get when our blood pressure is measured actually mean? Heartbeats pump blood around the body. As the blood moves, it pushes against the sides of the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart – the arteries. The force of this pushing is your blood pressure.
High blood pressure (hypertension) pushes too strongly on the artery walls. Over time, this can lead to damaged arteries and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
An ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg. You probably have high blood pressure if the readings are more than 140/90 mmHg. The first number refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle, which is the systolic pressure. The second number refers to your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats and is called the diastolic pressure. I am often asked which number is the most important – actually, both are important.
However, to accurately estimate your real risk of heart attack or stroke, other factors, such as family history, other medical conditions and cholesterol ratios are used by your doctor to assess what, if any, treatment you need. There are usually no warning signs to alert you that your blood pressure is too high. The only real way to tell is to have it measured by a health professional.
If you haven’t had a blood pressure reading lately, it’s worthwhile getting one taken. Alarmingly, while 30 in 100 adults in New Zealand have high blood pressure, only 6 in 100 take medication for this. In case you are being treated for high blood pressure and wish to monitor readings more closely, home blood pressure monitors are available from your local pharmacy.
A fun fact associated with all this is how shiny teeth can lower your blood pressure! Recently published research has shown that people with high blood pressure who are taking medication for their condition are more likely to benefit if they have good oral health.
In fact, periodontal disease (gum disease) is associated with a 20 percent increased risk of unsuccessful high blood pressure treatment.
This means that good oral hygiene becomes even more important if you are being treated for high blood pressure. So get that toothbrush and floss going!