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Blood pressure – do you know your numbers?

5th September 2023

Our Workplace Wellbeing Consultant, Suzanne Wootton, discusses the importance of everyday health awareness for this year’s Know Your Numbers Week.

Entering the GP practice with a wave and a hello to reception, I take my seat in the waiting room. Patiently waiting my turn, listening to the background music, I glance at the electronic screen for a few moments before picking up a magazine – all is well. The screen beeps: “Suzanne Wootton, please enter room 3.” Once I enter the Consultation Room and sit down, I take notice of the blood pressure monitor on the table: my hands start to sweat, and my heart begins to thump against my chest.  White coat syndrome – this came from nowhere! Now, I leave the consultation room after every appointment with a BP monitor and a doctor’s request to record my daily blood pressure and to report results back in 7 days’ time. Thankfully, my blood pressure reduces once I leave the consultation room – but day to day, would I even know my blood pressure is raised? The answer, of course, is no.

Our arteries are designed to manage everyday fluctuations in blood pressure, constricting and dilating as we participate in our daily activities.  However, maintaining high blood pressure consistently over a long time can damage those arteries, causing them to harden, clog, and narrow, making it more difficult for blood to pass through. High blood pressure, or hypertension, usually presents without symptoms and so is often known as the silent killer, causing more than half of all heart attacks and strokes in the UK and increasing the risk of developing kidney disease, visual impairments, and vascular dementia: making regular blood pressure readings an essential part of our everyday health awareness.

Current blood pressure statistics

It’s estimated that 32% of adults in England live with high blood pressure, with 3 in 10 of those adults being undiagnosed – that’s around 4.2 million people! What’s more, the estimated cost to the NHS in treating hypertension and its related health conditions is as high as £2 billion per year, with the wider economic and health impact being bigger still. With an estimated 12% of GP appointments booked to discuss hypertension concerns, it’s been suggested that early detection could save up to £850 million and 45,000 years of life over ten years.

How does measuring my blood pressure work, and what should I look for?

Blood pressure is measured in ‘Millimetres of Mercury’ (mmHg) and a simple test will provide you with two numbers. The first number is called the systolic BP and measures the pressure as the heart beats and blood is pumped into the arteries. The diastolic BP reading is the second number and measures the pressure when your heart is resting in between beats.

An optimal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg – most commonly referred to as “120 over 80.” To account for everyone’s unique variables, the ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60120/80: a reading of 140/90 and above is considered to be high blood pressure.

However, don’t be too alarmed if you record a raised reading every so often – eating, physical activity, salt, caffeine, and short-term stress can temporarily raise our blood pressure.  Recording additional readings and reporting to your GP for further monitoring is required for a confirmed diagnosis of high blood pressure.

How can I reduce my blood pressure?

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, taking your prescribed medication regularly can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Other ways to help stabilise and reduce blood pressure can include:

  • reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • quitting smoking
  • reducing salt intake
  • losing weight
  • taking up some enjoyable exercise
  • reducing stress

How can I offer more support for high blood pressure in the workplace?

We spend around 60% of our time in the workplace. For some of us this means spending lots of time in stressful environments, physically demanding roles, and shift work. It’s important then for health-conscious employers to create an environment that alleviates, rather than exacerbates, risks to employees’ blood pressure.

Both reducing the risks of high blood pressure and providing opportunities to monitor and detect blood pressure abnormalities can be a key factor in building a health-aware workplace – supporting employees’ everyday health, reducing absenteeism, and preventing lost productivity through illness or healthcare absences. Some ways to do this include:

  • Conducting stress assessments to identify trends and highlighting areas of high stress
  • Undertaking employee health surveys and highlighting areas for support
  • Improving key cornerstones of everyday workplace wellbeing, such as ensuring good communication; offering shared or reduced workloads, longer deadlines, and flexible working; encouraging positive workplace relationships; and keeping employees informed of any procedural or organisational changes
  • Investing in a BP monitor – often found your local supermarket or chemist at a reasonable price – to be made available for employees’ use
  • Organising a health promotion event to raise awareness and provide information
  • Offering workplace health checks and screenings
  • Facilitating healthy lifestyle education for employees
  • Creating a workplace environment where employees can be active during working hours

Here at Health@Work, we provide a wide range of services to help you build healthy, sustainable workplaces where employees feel that their health is your priority. If you’re looking to improve your workplace’s blood pressure management, don’t forget to take a look at our everyday health courses including the popular Healthy Eating by Design, Alcohol Awareness Training, and Exercise Simplified courses.