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Avoiding the dangers of high blood pressure

How to keep your heart healthy

Ahead of World Hypertension Day, we look at the symptoms and causes of high blood pressure, why it matters, and what you can do to help keep your heart healthy.


What is hypertension?

Hypertension is more commonly known as high blood pressure. Blood is pumped out of the left side of your heart into your arteries (blood vessels) which carry oxygen and nutrients away from your heart to other parts of your body. The force of this blood against the walls of your arteries is called blood pressure and it’s needed to keep blood flowing around your body. High blood pressure is a condition where this blood pressure is consistently higher than normal.


Know your numbers

Your blood pressure varies with each heartbeat across the day and night, changing with different activities and from one day to another. Ever wondered what all those numbers mean when your doctor straps the cuff around your arm? Well, blood pressure (BP) is expressed in units called millimetres of mercury (mmHg). It has a high point (called systolic) which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps, and a low point (called diastolic) which is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart relaxes. Normal adult BP is under 120/80 mmHg and high blood pressure is defined as more than 140/90 mmHg in adults (and it can be high even if only one of the numbers is above normal).


Risk factors

There is no one specific cause of high blood pressure but there are a number of things that can increase your chances of developing it, including:

  • Family history
  • Eating patterns (including salty food)
  • Alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Weight
  • Physical activity and exercise level.

Your blood pressure can also go up temporarily due to stress, your emotional state, recent physical activity, drinking or eating caffeine and even talking.


Are there any symptoms to look out for?

High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms which is why it’s so important to get it checked regularly. If you do get symptoms, they’re usually in the form of headaches or a full or fuzzy feeling in the head. Very high blood pressure can also cause:

  • Severe headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision or other vision changes
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Buzzing in the ears
  • Nosebleeds
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing.

If you experience any of these symptoms it’s important to see your GP immediately. For chest pain or breathing difficulties, head to an Emergency Department or call triple zero.


Why is healthy blood pressure so important?

Knowing your blood pressure is one easy way to monitor your health. So it’s a good (and simple!) thing to be on top of.

High blood pressure can damage your arteries and the organs that these blood vessels supply, and is the leading cause of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. In fact, high blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for stroke, but the good news is that one in two strokes is preventable simply by managing high blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of disease and damage.

How can I check my blood pressure?

Your doctor can measure your blood pressure for you or many local pharmacies also offers blood pressure checks. Your GP might also recommend you measure it at home using a home blood pressure monitor (which you can buy from most pharmacies) or with ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) which involves wearing a monitor for 24 hours while you go about normal daily life while it records your blood pressure at fixed times through the day and night.

Blood pressure is variable and can be raised by stress, recent physical activity, smoking, caffeine and even talking, so high blood pressure isn’t diagnosed until your resting blood pressure is consistently high.


How do I prevent high blood pressure?

For some people lifestyle changes are enough to improve their blood pressure, including:

  • Exercising regularly. The more active you are, the lower your risk of developing high blood pressure. If you’re 65 and older you should try to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise (like walking) five days a week. If this seems overwhelming, you can always break it up into 10-minute stints to make it more manageable! If you’re under 65 then you should try to be active on most days and do two and a half to three hours of physical activity per week (including 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise). Some exercises should be avoided if you have high blood pressure though so it’s important to check in with your GP.
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re overweight then you should try to reach your goal weight or start with a 5% reduction in your weight or waist measurement as an initial goal. Weight around the waist is related to greater risk so women should aim for a waist measurement of less than 80cm and men less than 90cm.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation. The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol. Healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. For some people not drinking at all is the safest option.
  • Eating healthily including:
    • plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
    • limiting takeaway and discretionary food
    • not adding salt to your cooking or meal and choosing products that are low in salt
    • increasing the amount of potassium in your diet (which can be found in food like bananas, leafy vegetables, legumes, avocado and salmon)
    • increasing your fibre intake (with food like fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains and cereals containing oats).

Read more from the Heart Foundation on healthy eating to protect your heart.


How can I treat high blood pressure?

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control your blood pressure then your GP may prescribe you a medication. If you’re prescribed medicine then it’s important to take it every day as instructed to help avoid any complications. Any medication should also be supported by ongoing health monitoring in partnership with your doctor.


Support from Teachers Health

Eligible Teachers Health members with Hospital cover can access support over the phone through Healthcare Services’ heart health programs. Depending on your needs, personalised heart-focused support could include:

  • a tailored program from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (including strategies for achieving and maintaining a nutritious diet and healthy weight)
  • a health management program with a Registered Nurse (to help you monitor your condition and manage your risk factors, symptoms and medications)
  • access to the Total Wellbeing Lifestyle Plan (weight loss program for members with high cholesterol or high blood pressure)
  • help to find health information and providers if needed
  • health coaching to help you succeed.

Read more about Healthcare Services and the programs they offer (including info on eligibility and privacy).


And don’t forget to check your Extras cover for benefits towards things like purchasing a home blood pressure monitor or getting support from an exercise physiologist or dietitian. Our Healthy Lifestyle benefit can also help with the cost of some weight management programs, healthy eating and lifestyle programs, gym memberships, health screenings and more!