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Diabetes and blood pressure

People with diabetes and high blood pressure are more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Know what’s a safe blood pressure for you.

If you have diabetes, you need your blood pressure checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year. This check is one of your 15 Healthcare Essentials and is a vital part of your diabetes health care.

If it’s high (called hypertension), you’ll need treatment to bring it down. This is because it puts a strain on your blood vessels and can damage them. This can make it harder for blood to flow around the body and reach all the vital areas it needs to, like your heart. So you’re more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. There’s lots you can do yourself too – your lifestyle has a direct impact on your blood pressure.

It also puts you more at risk of developing all types of diabetes complications, like serious problems with your feet, your eyes and your kidneys.

It’s really important to know that you might have high blood pressure and feel fine, because there aren’t usually any symptoms. But even if you feel healthy, high blood pressure is damaging your blood vessels and you need to get treatment. That’s why you should never miss a blood pressure check – it’s a free test and takes two minutes.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure your heart uses to push blood through your blood vessels and around your body.

There are two numbers used to describe blood pressure and it’s measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). It’s written like this 130/80mmHg. And you’ll hear your doctor say 130 over 80.

The first number is the most amount of pressure your heart uses to push the blood around, when your heart is beating. The second number is the least amount of pressure, when your heart is relaxed between beats.

Symptoms of high blood pressure 

High blood pressure is sometimes called a silent problem or the silent killer, as it usually has no symptoms. Some people with very high blood pressure say they have headaches, but that’s rare. 

The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked by a healthcare professional.

Causes and risk factors of high blood pressure

For most people, there’s no single cause of high blood pressure. But we know some things can make you more at risk. These are called risk factors, and one of these is having diabetes.

High levels of sugar in your blood can lead to something called atherosclerosis. This is when there’s a build-up of fatty material inside your blood vessels, narrowing them. The narrower the blood vessels, the more the pressure builds up.

The more stress your blood vessels are under, the harder it is to push blood around the important areas of your body. This means your feet, eyes and heart are seriously at risk. 

There are other risk factors you can’t do much about:

  • your age
  • a family history of high blood pressure
  • if your ethnic background is African-Caribbean or Black African

And there are risk factors you do have control over:

  • too much salt in your diet
  • being overweight
  • not being active
  • smoking
  •  drinking too much alcohol
  • how you cope with stress

If you make changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure. We’re not saying it’s easy, but it’s vital you understand how you can do this. There’s lots of support to help you bring your levels down and achieve your goals.

Your blood pressure test

Your doctor or nurse uses a blood pressure monitor to check your blood pressure. They’ll put a cuff (like a band) around your arm and inflate it. This restricts the blood flow for a few seconds. This can feel uncomfortable but isn’t painful. The cuff then deflates, the monitor takes a reading and your doctor or nurse will take the cuff off.

You should get this test at least once a year. It’s usually part of your annual review and is one of your essential diabetes health checks

We’ve made a checklist called the 15 Healthcare Essentials to help you keep track of all the checks and services you’re entitled to. You’re entitled to this check and we can help make sure you get it.

If you want to, you can buy a blood pressure monitor yourself to use at home. You can get this from a chemist, or order one from our shop. You don’t have to do this, but some people find it helps them manage their diabetes better. It’s fine to use yourself, but speak to your healthcare team first to make sure you’re using it right. Make a note of your readings and speak to your doctor or nurse if you’re ever worried.

Your blood pressure results 

You’ll get your results straight away. The reading on the monitor lets your healthcare team know whether your blood pressure is too high, too low or just right. But it’s important you understand your results too. Make a note of your reading at each appointment and get to know what the numbers mean. 

Your healthcare team will agree a target level that’s safe for you. It’s important you do everything you can to keep in your target range. The longer your blood pressure is high, the more at risk you are of getting serious complications. We’ve got lots of information and advice to help you bring your blood pressure down to your target level

Blood pressure safe levels and targets

Whether you have diabetes or not, your blood pressure target will be less than 140/80mmHg. 

But your target level will be lower than that if you have diabetes and have complications already. This could be eye damage, kidney damage, heart disease or a stroke. 

How to lower your blood pressure

A lot of it’s down to making positive lifestyle changes. But we know it’s not always that straightforward, and some people will need medication to help too.

  • Keep to a healthy weight
  • Be more active
  • Reduce the salt in your diet
  • Give up smoking 
  • Drink less alcohol 
  • Try different ways to cope with stress

Your healthcare team can support you with making these changes. And we’ve got advice to help you get started too – why not start by knowing your 15 Healthcare Essentials. This is a checklist of the diabetes care you’re entitled to and will help you take control of your diabetes.

Medication for high blood pressure

Making changes to your lifestyle may not be enough and many people with diabetes also need to take medication.

The most common types of blood pressure medicines are diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, antiotensin-2 receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers. Ask your healthcare team if want more info on these.

Your healthcare team may give you medication even if your blood pressure isn’t high and is in the target range. This is normal but you can ask your healthcare team to explain why. It’s usually because the medication itself can help protect you against diabetes complications – they especially protect your kidneys.

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