The British Heart Foundation says that as many as five million adults in the UK have undiagnosed high blood pressure (hypertension).
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
The test for blood pressure is simple and quick: a device called a sphygmomanometer is used, usually consisting of a stethoscope, arm cuff, pump and dial.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is given as 2 figures:
✚ systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart pushes blood out
✚ diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats
For example, if your blood pressure is “140 over 90” or 140/90mmHg, it means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.
As a general guide:
✚ normal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
✚ high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
✚ low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
New NHS hypertension case finding service in pharmacies
Many pharmacies already offer health checks, both privately and on the NHS.
From October 2021, a new NHS service in England will see many more pharmacies providing blood pressure checks free of charge to people aged 40 and over.
The service has two stages. The first is identifying people at risk of hypertension and offering them blood pressure monitoring.
The second stage, if necessary, is 24 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM). The blood pressure test results will then be shared with the patient’s GP to inform a potential diagnosis of hypertension.
This service will enable people with high blood pressure to be identified and treated early and also encourage conversations about lifestyle change to help people live healthy lives for longer.
Body Mass Index
BMI uses your height and weight to work out if you’re a healthy weight, underweight or overweight. Your BMI result is not the perfect measure of your overall health. It can’t tell if you’re carrying too much fat or you’ve got a lot of muscle.
You could use your BMI result as a starting point for further discussion with a health care professional. The adult BMI doesn’t take into account age, sex or muscular build. This means that:
Older adults can have a healthy BMI but still have too much fat. This is because older adults tend to have more body fat than younger adults.
✚ Women can have a healthy BMI but still have too much fat. This is because women tend to have more body fat than men with the same BMI.
✚ If you’re from a black and ethnic minority group, you’re at increased risk of type 2 diabetes with a BMI of 23 or more.
✚ An athletic adult with a lot of muscle may have a high BMI but not be overweight. This is because BMI can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle.
If you are pregnant, you should use your pre-pregnancy weight to work out your BMI. Using your pregnancy weight may not be accurate.
According to Heart UK, over half of all adults in England have raised cholesterol, with an astonishing 7-8 million in the UK currently taking medications to lower their cholesterol levels. While we need cholesterol in our blood to stay healthy, too much can lead to diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Undiagnosed sufferers of high cholesterol won’t even know they’ve got it – you can be fit, slim and young and still find yourself with raised levels, as it shows no symptoms.
The test itself is quick and painless and usually includes a few questions about your health and lifestyle, before a finger prick blood test is taken and the results revealed a few minutes later.