Blood pressure: How to lower it and other commonly-asked questions

A man having his blood pressure taken
Blood pressure checks can now take place at selected barbers, mosques and pharmacies. (Getty Images)

You have probably heard of blood pressure, be it high or low, but do you know how it affects the body?

Blood pressure is the force that your heart uses to pump blood around the body, so high blood pressure means this force is too strong while low blood pressure means it is too weak.

High blood pressure affects around one in three British men and one in four British women. Blood Pressure UK says that, because the condition often doesn’t have any symptoms, it’s called the ‘silent killer’ - which is why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

The NHS has now announced that it will be offering free blood pressure checks across England in some barbers, mosques and pharmacies in a bid to find and treat more people with undiagnosed high blood pressure.

Read more: NHS to offer blood pressure check in barber shops and places of worship (The Telegraph, 3-min read)

Some high street pharmacies are already offering blood pressure checks, with 149,865 taken in May this year - up from 58,345 in 2022.

A senior woman sits at the table and measures blood pressure at her home.
One in four British women have high blood pressure. (Getty Images)

"With the number of people living with major illnesses, including heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions, set to grow substantially over the coming years, it has never been more important to put in place preventative measures like easy to access blood-pressure checks that can pick up the early signs and risks," chief pharmaceutical officer for England David Webb said in a statement.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of the force your heart uses to pump blood around the body.

It’s measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is given as two figures that include systolic pressure (the pressure your heart pushes out) and diastolic pressure (your heart resting pressure between beats).

An example the NHS gives is that if you are told you have a blood pressure of 140 over 90, or 140/90mmHg, this means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.

High blood pressure can put an extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, and persistent high blood pressure can lead to fatal conditions such as a heart attack.

Low blood pressure means your organs are not getting enough oxygen and nutrients, and can lead to nausea, blurred vision, feeling weak and fainting.

Blood pressure: Read more

Senior doctor, medical consultant and health expert looking at blood pressure of a man patient. Elderly healthcare professional working and help consulting in a hospital, doctors office or clinic
High blood pressure affects around one in three British men. (Getty Images)

What is normal blood pressure?

According to the NHS, ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.

High blood pressure is anything over 140/90mmHg and low blood pressure is anything under 90/60mmHg.

High blood pressure causes

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often caused by lifestyle factors including:

  • Being overweight

  • Eating too much salt

  • Not eating enough fruit and vegetables

  • Not enough exercise

  • Drinking alcohol

  • Smoking

  • Stress

  • Aged over 65

  • A family history of high blood pressure

  • Are of black African or black Caribbean descent

Underlying health conditions can also be a cause of high blood pressure. These include:

  • Diabetes

  • Kidney disease

  • Sleep Apnoea

  • Hormone problems

  • Lupus

Medicines such as the contraceptive pill, steroids, cold and cough remedies, herbal remedies and drugs such as cocaine can also heighten your blood pressure.

Low blood pressure causes

Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can be caused by several medical conditions including:

  • Pregnancy

  • Heart and heart valve conditions

  • Hormone-related diseases

  • Dehydration

  • Blood loss

  • Severe infection (septicemia)

  • Allergic reaction

  • Lack of nutrients in the diet

  • Certain medications like antidepressants

People over the age of 65, and those with diseases such as Parkinson’s or diabetes are more likely to be at risk of low blood pressure.

Vegetarian, vegan, and raw food. A girl or Woman Eats a Vegetable salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts and seeds, Green Basil Leaves, and Salts It From a salt Shaker. Next To It Are Sliced Baguette Slices. The concept of Healthy eating, diet.
Reducing your salt intake can help to lower blood pressure. (Getty Images)

How to lower blood pressure

High blood pressure can be lowered with lifestyle changes, medicines, or a combination of both.

Some lifestyle changes recommended by the NHS include:

  • Cut your salt intake

  • Eat a low fat, balanced diet

  • Increase intake of fruit and vegetables

  • Cut down on alcohol

  • Lose weight

  • Drink less caffeine

  • Quit smoking

You may also be prescribed blood pressure medicine such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or calcium channel blockers that you need to take for the rest of your life, however you may be able to stop treatment if your blood pressure stays under control.

The NHS says that high blood pressure can often be prevented or reduced by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy BMI, regularly exercising, drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking.