Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
How 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 a ‘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:
|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
|Dr Hari Talreja is a renal physician/hypertension specialist with advanced training from Canada and a master’s degree from Harvard University in the USA. He is one of the very few American Society of Hypertension-certified hypertension specialists in New Zealand. He is the clinical lead for transplantation, hypertension and clinical research at Counties Manukau Health. He also practices at Ormiston Specialists Centre, Flatbush and Gilgit Road Specialist Centre, Epsom.|