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The silent health issue

High blood pressure often doesn’t show itself until it’s too late. Staying on top of your healthy blood pressure levels is the key to avoiding a nasty surprise as we get older.

Being strapped to a blood pressure monitor is one of the most common things we can do on a trip to the doctor, but the implications of an abnormal blood pressure reading are far more complicated.

The Heart Foundation says the thing about abnormal blood pressure is that it rarely has any symptoms, so unless you are getting regularly checked you may be putting yourself at risk without even knowing it.

According to the Foundation, one-fifth of Australians aged 45-74 years are at a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. And the only way of knowing if you are at risk is to get regular checks. You can start with the Foundation’s very own Disease Risk Calculator, but it is just an indication and is no substitute for a check up.

If you have not had a check up recently, it is easy and cheap to find out if you should be watching your blood pressure.

What is blood pressure?

The role of your heart is to circulate blood throughout your body, carrying essential fuel and oxygen for your organs to function properly. Blood pressure measures the rate at which the heart is doing its job, and it needs to be at a certain pressure for everything to work as it should.

Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mmHg. Systole is the first number, and diastole the second. Together they form the measurement of a pump of your heart.

Any higher and it's a good idea to contact your GP.

What causes high blood pressure?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to having high blood pressure. One of the biggest risks is being overweight and not doing enough exercise. Get moving and you can reverse a high blood pressure reading with relative ease.

Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure. Alcohol acts as a relaxant to the heart, so when it wears off the heart often works faster to make up for slacking off. Any more than two alcoholic drinks a day comes with some risk of high blood pressure.

If you have a family history of high blood pressure it is a likely indicator that you will have it at some time in your life. Know your history and get checked more often.

Smoking is also a factor, as is old age. As our body ages, it isn’t able to pump blood as well as it did when we were younger.

What to do about high blood pressure

The key here is diet. You have to move away from high-risk foods like salt and fat and move to fresh vegetables. You have to get up and moving, quit smoking and lose the booze. Leading a healthier lifestyle will allow you to maintain a good blood pressure figure for longer.

But above all, make sure you know what your blood pressure is, because without any symptoms, knowledge really is power.