Heart rate and blood pressure explained

Blog > Heart rate and blood pressure explained

28 June 2018

Your heart rate and blood pressure are things that will be measured and recorded during most check-ups with your GP. They do this to check for any abnormalities which could mean that something isn’t quite right with your heart or circulatory system.

Here we will go over what these two measurements can mean for your overall health, plus include some helpful links to more information, so you can learn more.

What does blood pressure mean?

Your heart’s function is pumping blood around your body, otherwise known as your circulation. Your blood pressure is the force your heart uses to pump blood. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and there are two measurements given. These are:

·         The pressure that your heart pushes the blood out, called systolic pressure

·         The pressure when your heart rests between beats, known as diastolic pressure

When your blood pressure is presented the measurement will be your systolic pressure over your diastolic one, so as an example 140 over 90 or 140/90mmHg. We will talk about the healthy levels your blood pressure should be around later.

What does heart rate mean?

Your heart rate is how fast your heart is beating (pumping blood around your body) and to measure it you check your pulse. When you take your pulse, the measurement is given in beats per minute (bpm).

You will have a resting heart rate, which is your heart rate when you are not exercising or putting your heart under extra pressure. Knowing your resting heart rate can help you to track your fitness or alert you to any potential health issues.

Your resting heart rate increases with age and can be affected by medications you may take, but it’s a generally good guideline to your overall heart health.

Let’s look at the healthy levels for your heart rate and your blood pressure next.

Healthy levels

Your blood pressure and heart rate can be affected by a few things such as your weight, exercise levels and stress, but there are some ideal levels that you should be looking for.

·         An ideal blood pressure is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg

·         High blood pressure is considered as 140/90mmHg or higher

·         Low blood pressure is considered as 90/60mmHg or lower

Most adults between the ages of 18 and 65 will have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100bpm. As a general rule, the fitter you are the lower your resting heart rate will be.

How do I check my blood pressure and heart rate?

You can take your own pulse to find your heart rate quite easily. The best place is at the inside of your wrist. Place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats you feel in 60 seconds or in 30 seconds but times by 2. It’s normal to occasionally have an irregular heartbeat, but if it continues you can speak to your GP and have it checked out.

There are some things you should consider that could affect your pulse:

·         Your activity level

·         Your physical fitness

·         The position you are in e.g. standing up or lying down

·         Your stress levels

·         The size of your body

·         If you are taking any medications

Measuring your blood pressure is a little more complex. You will need a home blood pressure monitor, the same as when you get it checked by your GP. Your blood pressure should not be measured straight after a meal or if you need the toilet. You should wear loose fitting clothing, so you can access your upper arms and always use the same arm when you measure your blood pressure.

You should rest for 5 minutes before taking the reading and the arm you place the cuff around should be the same level as your heart. The NHS has a guide on home blood pressure monitoring as part of their general information about blood pressure and bloodpressureuk.org has this in-depth guide to how to do a home test.

There are some things you should consider that could affect your blood pressure:

·         Stress levels

·         Exercise levels

·         If you are a smoker

·         Your weight

·         Your diet

If you are concerned about your heart rate or blood pressure, be sure to make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.

What can heart rate and blood pressure affect in the body?

Your blood pressure and heart rate need to stay within a healthy range to make sure your cardiovascular system is functioning properly. This system makes sure blood can circulate nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide and hormones around your body. Your heart works to pump the blood in and out of its chambers to make the cardiovascular system work, which is why it’s important to keep it healthy.

Health problems can arise if your blood pressure becomes abnormally high or low over a prolonged period of time. Depending on whether it is too high or low, your GP will make recommendations on how to manage it.

Low blood pressure – Hypotension

You may notice dizziness and blurred vision or may feel especially lightheaded after standing up after sitting for a long time. These can all be signs of low blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is a reading of 90/60mmHg or less it is considered low. It signals inadequate flow of blood to your vital organs and can cause:

·         Strokes

·         Heart attacks

·         Kidney failure

High blood pressure – Hypertension

High blood pressure doesn’t often have symptoms, but if left untreated it can also cause heart attacks or strokes like low blood pressure.

Your blood pressure is considered high if it measures 140/90mmHg or higher. If it remains high persistently it can cause a number of serious conditions including:

·         Heart disease or failure

·         Kidney disease

·         Strokes

·         Vascular dementia

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 best way to manage and control your high blood pressure is by getting it checked by your GP and making as many healthy lifestyle choices as you can.

You are more likely to have high blood pressure if you are overweight, over 65, don’t exercise regularly or smoke. Your GP may recommend cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, getting more sleep or losing weight. There are also some medicines that your doctor can prescribe to help regulate your blood pressure.

Cholesterol and blood pressure

Cholesterol is also called a lipid and is a fatty-like substance. Created by the liver but also found in some foods, it is vital for your body to function normally. Cholesterol gets carried around your body in your blood by proteins. If you have too much of it in your blood however it can start to cause or put you at risk of developing serious health conditions.

This is because cholesterol can build up and begin to clog arteries. It prevents the flow of blood around your body and increases the risk of blood clots. This could cause damage to your heart, brain and the rest of your body.

Having high cholesterol can be caused by:

·         Diabetes

·         An unhealthy diet – particularly one with high levels of saturated fat

·         Smoking

It’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly and maintain a healthy diet to help reduce the levels of saturated fat to keep the levels lower. Regular exercise also helps.

Because cholesterol can build up in your blood the fatty substance eventually hardens, forming a type of inflexible plaque that damages the arteries. They become stiff and narrowed, and your blood no longer flows through them as easily as it once did.

The ultimate danger is that your arteries will become so narrowed that a blood clot will block blood flow, causing a severe cardiovascular event. If you have high blood pressure and your arteries are already stiff or narrowed, your heart will have to work even harder to pump blood around the body. Over time, this high pressure damages your arteries and other blood vessels as they try to manage a constant high-pressure blood flow.

Keeping yourself in check

If your blood pressure is found to be too high or too low, your GP or the healthcare professional performing the test can advise you about ways to control it. This may involve:

·         Adopting a healthy, balanced diet and restricting your salt intake

·         Getting regular exercise

·         Cutting down on alcohol

·         Losing weight

·         Stopping smoking

·         Taking medication, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or calcium channel blockers

In some cases, you may be referred to a doctor such as a cardiologist (heart specialist) to discuss treatment options.

Keeping your heart healthy is important at any age, and there are ways you can help it to perform efficiently and prevent or manage heart disease. These include:

·         Healthy eating

·         Keeping active

·         Cutting down/quitting smoking

·         Maintaining a healthy weight

·         Taking medication to help your heart to function (as recommended by your GP or heart specialist)

Your GP can also talk to you about your levels of cholesterol and overall diet and exercise to help improve your cardiovascular health. There may also be medications you can take to help, but these will depend on your age and doctor’s advice.

The information in this article is intended as general advice only. If you or your family members require medical advice or have any medical concerns, please contact your GP.

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