Managing high blood pressure

Want to know what blood pressure is? Find out how high blood pressure can affect your heart and what you can do to manage it.

When your heart beats, it pumps blood around your body. As the blood moves it pushes against the sides of blood vessels called arteries. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure (Pēhanga toto).

Your blood pressure is constantly changing as your heart pushes and relaxes. Having high blood pressure (hypertension) means that your blood is moving through your blood vessels with extra force. Over time this can lead to damaged arteries and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. It can also damage organs like the eyes, kidneys and brain.

A single high blood pressure reading does not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall during the day. It increases during physical activity or when you are excited, angry or afraid and these are usually short-lived episodes.

You are usually considered to have high blood pressure if your blood pressure stays high for three separate readings, over at least three months. 

To find out if you need to do something about your blood pressure levels, visit your doctor and have a heart and diabetes check. In your heart and diabetes check, your doctor, nurse or health professional will discuss your ideal blood pressure, taking into account your overall risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

It is difficult to give an example of a high blood pressure reading, because it depends on the individual. The level of blood pressure that is 'high' for you depends on lots of different factors and your overall risk of heart attack or stroke. Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the better. If you have a history of heart disease, diabetes or a high risk of heart attack or stroke, it's recommended you lower your blood pressure to less than 130/80.

“I didn't even know my blood pressure was high - you can't feel it. I've made sure all my family have their blood pressure checked. I don't want the same thing to happen to them."

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, which can put them at risk of heart disease.

The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have it checked. Ask your doctor or nurse how often you should have your blood pressure checked, and encourage your family/whānau to have theirs checked too.

High blood pressure often runs in families. Sometimes kidney or glandular disease may be responsible. However, eating too much salt, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, and not moving around enough each day, can also contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Making healthy changes to your lifestyle will help you manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and lower your risk of heart attack or stroke. Your doctor may suggest medications as an option that can lower your blood pressure and risk of heart attack and stroke. 

The thought of making changes may seem overwhelming, but the good news is that even a small change can have a positive impact. You can choose to work on as many or as few risk factors as you would like. The more you change, the better the result. 

*Please talk to your doctor before exploring this option

You may have some questions for your health professional about your blood pressure. Here are some suggestions of things you might like to ask: 

  • What is a good blood pressure for me, and what is high blood pressure for me?
  • How often should I have my blood pressure checked?
  • What happens to me when I have high blood pressure?
  • What could cause my blood pressure to be too high?
  • Does high blood pressure run in the family? Should I tell my family to get checked?
  • How can we work together to decide what is right for me to do to manage my high blood pressure, taking into account my thoughts, beliefs and ideas?

You may like to read through and take a copy of our blood pressure information sheet to discuss with your doctor.

Get the blood pressure resource