Taking Care of Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

Healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels are important for your heart and arteries. Here you will find information on how you can maintain your health.

 

 

Blood pressure
Blood pressure is a measure of the amount of pressure against the walls of your blood vessels. It is caused by your heart as it pumps blood containing the oxygen supply through these vessels and around the organs of your body. If a person is experiencing problems, this could be because the blood pressure is too low or too high. The most common condition is high blood pressure.  

High blood pressure
A doctor or nurse will be able to check if you have high blood pressure and it is recommended that you get your blood pressure checked each time you visit your doctor, or at least once every six months.

Measuring blood pressure
Blood pressure is measured by a standard test, which is painless and only takes a few minutes. The doctor or nurse will put a cuff around your arm above the elbow; air is pumped into the cuff and the measurement is read as the air is let out. Two numbers measure the level of blood pressure.

  • The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is beating
  • The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.

Blood pressure varies due to age, emotion and activity. Remember, one raised reading does not mean you have high blood pressure, however, your doctor or nurse will need to recheck it to get your normal level.

Causes of high blood pressure
A person with high blood pressure often feels and looks well and may have no symptoms, but the condition adds to the workload of the heart and arteries and causes damage over time, which may contribute to a heart attack or stroke.

There are a number of factors that usually combine to cause the condition, including:

  • Not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Taking too much salt in the diet
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of the condition
  • Smoking
  • Ageing
  • Stress.

Treatment for high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes, which may be enough to treat it, such as:

  • Losing weight – and keeping the weight off
  • Eating more fruit and vegetables
  • Reducing fat in your diet
  • Cutting down on salt
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Stopping smoking.

It is important to exercise regularly.  Try taking a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. Sometimes medication, usually taken long-term, is prescribed to treat the condition. This helps to prevent the risk of heart attack or stroke.  It is important to take this medication once prescribed.

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Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is essential for a healthy nervous system, good digestion and the production of hormones.  Your body produces cholesterol and you also get it from your diet, but too much cholesterol in your blood can be dangerous as it builds up on the walls of your blood vessels and leads to narrowing or hardening of the arteries.

There are two main forms of cholesterol:

  • LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) - known as ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol (high density lipoproteins) - known as ‘good’ cholesterol.

Bad cholesterol
This attaches to the wall of the arteries and causes narrowing, which may contribute to angina, heart attack or stroke.

Good cholesterol
This cholesterol collects extra, unwanted cholesterol and carries it to the liver where it can be broken down.

High cholesterol
There are no symptoms to indicate if you have high cholesterol, but a simple blood test at your doctor’s surgery will show your overall level of cholesterol. 

Depending on the results of this test, your doctor may arrange for you to have a further test that will breakdown the HDL (good) cholesterol from the LDL (bad) and it may be necessary to fast before this test. Check with your doctor. Remember, one raised reading does not mean you have high cholesterol, as levels may vary from day to day.

Causes of high cholesterol
Many factors contribute to high cholesterol. These include:

  • Not taking enough regular exercise
  • Too much fat in the diet
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of the condition.

Treatment for high cholesterol
Simple lifestyle changes may help lower cholesterol levels, including:

  • Diet – your doctor may refer you to a dietician
  • Exercise – decreases ‘bad’ cholesterol and increases ‘good’ cholesterol
  • Weight loss –healthy eating and exercise will help control your weight
  • Medication – your doctor may prescribe drug treatment.

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Tips to remember
To keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control you can:

  • Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Have regular medical check-ups
  • Cut down on salt in your diet
  • Eat more high-fibre foods
  • Avoid being overweight
  • Choose lower fat foods
  • Take regular exercise
  • Go easy on alcohol
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat more oily fish, e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, etc.

Useful articles or links:
Irish Heart Foundation - www.irishheart.ie

HSE National Information Line
Monday to Saturday, 8am-8pm
Call Save: 1850 24 1850
Email: info@hse.ie

Citizen’s Information Centres
LoCall: 1890 777 121
Website: www.citizensinformation.ie
Free and confidential service

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