Blood pressure

What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood against the inside wall of blood vessels. Blood pressure rises and falls naturally as it is pumped around the body by the heart. It can vary depending on an individual’s age, physical condition and health, in addition to the strength of the heart and vessel walls, and volume and thickness of blood. Blood pressure also varies throughout the day to meet your body’s demand. During times of rest or sleep your blood pressure will be lower, whereas when you are active or exercising your blood pressure increases to meet demand, and requires your heart to work harder to pump the blood around the body.
When discussing your blood pressure with your health care providers, they might mention the following terms.
Systolic Blood Pressure
  • This term refers to the pressure in the blood vessels measured when the heart is pumping out blood. This measurement is read on the top i.e. 120/80.
Diastolic Blood Pressure
  • This term refers to the pressure in the blood vessels measured when the heart is in the resting phase. This measurement is read on the bottom i.e. 120/80.
Blood pressure is very important to ensure that there is correct blood flow to all your organs. Without blood flow (very low blood pressure) these organs will be without oxygen and become damaged and at risk of failing. A constant high blood pressure which occurs in hypertension, can also damage your body1.
A guide to blood pressure readings2
Normal blood pressure
Less than 120/80mmHg
Normal to high blood pressure
120/80 to 140/90mmHg
High blood pressure
Very high blood pressure
*These classifications are only a guide, and do not replace information given by your doctor*
What is high blood pressure?
Ongoing high blood pressure is known as hypertension and can have long-term health concerns including heart disease and kidney disease, and increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
Many factors can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) including:
  • Family history.
  • Poor diet.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Smoking and alcohol intake.
  • Medications.
  • Secondary to other health conditions e.g. kidney disease1.
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms hence it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Healthy diet and lifestyle changes can assist to lower blood pressure. Stress raises blood pressure in the short-term, but in the long term may have indirect effects by influencing eating, drinking smoking and physical activity patterns. Tobacco smoking increases the risk of heart attack and stroke threefold in hypertensive individuals4.
Tips to reduce blood pressure
  • Quit smoking. (link to smoking content)
  • Limit alcohol intake. (link to alcohol content)
  • Maintain a healthy weight. (link to healthy eating, healthy weight)
  • Be physically active. (link to physical activity)
  • Consume a healthy diet. (link to healthy eating, healthy weight)
  • Reduce salt intake. (link to salt content)
Ongoing Management
It is important to keep regular appointments with your general practitioner to monitor your blood pressure ensuring minimal organ damage occurs, medication is effective and lifestyle modification education can be delivered.
Acknowledgements to Morguefile for images


1. Porth and Matfin, 2009, Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States, 8th Edition, Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, Philadelphia
2. National Heart Foundation, Cardiovascular conditions - Blood pressure information sheet, viewed 21 June 2013,
3. National Heart Foundation, Guidelines for the assessment and management of absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, viewed 21 June 2013,
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2013, High blood pressure, viewed 6 June 2013
5. The Dietitians Association of Australia, Salt, viewed 6 June 2013
6. National Heart Foundation 2008, Your blood pressure, viewed 6 June, 2013