Cut your risk of heart and kidney disease, stroke and diabetes by keeping a check on your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight and waist measurements, says GP Dr Sarah Jarvis.
Vital warning signs about your future health could be revealed by simple tests your GP can perform or some that you can measure yourself with a tape measure or scales.
Why bother? Well, raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels are risk factors which could lead to suffering a stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.
Having a body mass index in the overweight range or carrying fat around your middle also increases your risk of developing the same diseases, plus diabetes and some types of cancer.
Get your blood pressure checked
High blood pressure or hypertension often has no symptoms (insert link to Hypertension feature) so regular checks are important.
How is blood pressure measured?
“A blood pressure reading comes as two figures, the higher ‘over’ the lower (140 over 80, for instance, usually written as 140/80),” explains Dr Jarvis; “both are measured – in millimols of mercury or mmHg. The higher figure – your ‘systolic’ blood pressure – is the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps blood out round the system. The lower figure – your ‘diastolic’ blood pressure – is the remaining pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats.
“Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure are important because, if either one is consistently raised, it can increase your risk of stroke (and heart attack). High systolic blood pressure probably increases your risks more than high diastolic blood pressure.”
Have I got high blood pressure?
The threshold for diagnosing hypertension is different for different people. The ‘ideal’ is probably somewhere around 120/80. If you are otherwise healthy, your doctor will not normally recommend treatment unless your blood pressure is consistently above 160/100 mmHg.
If you have diabetes, chronic kidney problems, have had a heart attack or stroke or have other risk factors which increase your chance of these conditions, your doctor will recommend treatment if your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90.
A single blood pressure reading above 180/110 is considered ‘severe’ hypertension and your doctor will recommend treatment straightaway. Some people suffer ‘white coat hypertension’
Get your cholesterol tested
High cholesterol can cause blocked arteries which in turn can lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney disease, so it’s important to get your levels checked. This can be done by your GP or practice nurse.
“The ‘ideal’ is below 5mmol/l for total cholesterol if you’re generally healthy or below 4mmol/l if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke or have diabetes,” says Dr Jarvis: “however, even more important is the ratio of ‘good to bad’ cholesterol, which your GP can advise you on – this should be below 5.”
If your cholesterol levels are too high, you will be advised to take more exercise and eat less saturated fat. You may also be prescribed a daily cholesterol-lowering drug called a statin.