It's one of England's biggest killers, yet millions of us are walking around not knowing that we have a ticking time bomb inside us.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is responsible for nearly a quarter of all deaths in this country every year, yet it's largely preventable. That's because the biggest cause of CVD is high blood pressure, which can be controlled by both medication and lifestyle changes.
The problem is that high blood pressure has no symptoms, so around 4 million people in England have no idea theirs is too high. That's why it's vital to have yours checked – it's the only way to know.
Checks are available for free at your GP surgery and – if you're over 40 – at many pharmacies. Workplaces often offer tests and you can buy a blood pressure monitor for use at home.
WHAT IS CVD?
Cardiovascular disease is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. It's usually associated with a build up of fatty deposits inside the arteries and an increased risk of blood clots. It can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes.
It's most common in men, older people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. And while it can be caused by obesity, dietary factors, smoking and high cholesterol, the most serious risk factor is high blood pressure (hypertension).
In fact, almost half of all deaths from CVD and around 40 per cent of all associated illnesses in this country are due to high blood pressure.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
While anyone can have high blood pressure, you're more likely to if you're overweight, eat too much salt and not enough fruit and veg, or you don't get enough exercise. Smokers, drinkers, the over-65s and those of black African or Caribbean descent are also more likely to be at risk.
If you sleep badly or have a relative with high blood pressure, that also increases your chances, so it's worth getting tested at least every five years if you're over 40.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A TEST?
A cuff is usually placed around your arm (sometimes your wrist) and inflated until two numbers appear on the machine.
The top number (called systolic pressure) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body while the bottom number (diastolic pressure) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.
Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60 and 120/80 (or below 150/90 if you're aged over 80). Meanwhile, high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90 (150/90 or over if you're aged over 80).
However, if you are measuring your blood pressure at home, it's slightly different: ideal is below 135/85 for adults aged under 80; below 145/85 for adults aged 80 and above.
Between 120/80 and 140/90 means that you are at risk of developing the condition if you don't take preventative measures.
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