Blood pressure

Blood pressure (pēhanga toto) is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body.

Key points

  1. If your blood pressure is high, your heart works harder with every heartbeat. Constant high blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. This puts you at higher risk of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health issues.
  2. If your blood pressure is low, it's not usually a problem, but for some people low blood pressure is a sign of an underlying problem.
  3. You should have your blood pressure checked regularly. How often depends on your age, risk factors and general health (see below for details).

Video: Blood pressure animation Heart Foundation, NZ, 2015

undefinedHow is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured by inflating a cuff around your arm. This is connected to a device that measures pressure. The test is easy and painless. 

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (which is written as mmHg). Blood pressure readings are a combination of two measurements:

  • systolic – the highest pressure against your arteries as your heart pumps. The normal systolic pressure is usually between 110–130 mmHg.
  • diastolic – the pressure against your arteries as your heart relaxes and fills with blood. The normal diastolic pressure is usually between 70–80 mmHg.

When should I get my blood pressure checked?

High blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’, because for most people, there are no symptoms. This means many people are unaware they have high blood pressure.

It is important that every adult have your blood pressure checked regularly. The age you are advised to start having heart and diabetes checks depends on your age, ethnicity and other risk factors. 

Risk factors Age to start having heart and diabetes checks

If you have no known risk factors

Men: 45 years
Women: 55 years

If you are Māori, Pasifika or South Asian1

Men: 30 years
Women: 40 years

If you have the following risk factors:

  • you smoke
  • you have a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack or stroke2
  • you have gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or prediabetes
  • you are overweight3
  • you have kidney disease
  • you have high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • you have previously had a heart trouble or stroke
  • you have a heart condition such as atrial fibrillation.
Men: 35 years
Women: 45 years

If you have diabetes (type 1 or 2)

As part of your yearly diabetes review

If you have schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or other severe mental illness

25 years
  1. South-Asian peoples: Indian, including Fijian Indian, Sri Lankan, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Pakistani, Tibetan
  2. Family history: parent, brother or sister
  3. Overweight: BMI ≥ 30 or weight around your tummy (waist circumference ≥ 102 cm in men or ≥ 88 cm in women)

If your blood pressure is high, read more about high blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is low, read more about low blood pressure.

Learn more

What is blood pressure? NHS, UK
Watch, learn and live – blood pressure American Heart Association

References

  1. Managing your risk Heart Foundation, NZ
  2. Blood pressure information sheet Heart Foundation, NZ, 2019
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team .