I feel generally ill. Tired, a bit dizzy, nauseated. Sometimes I get chest pain and breathless. Or headaches. So what’s making me feel ill? Let’s check my blood pressure in case that’s why… my blood pressure monitor gives me a high reading (let’s say 166/94mmHg). So, now I know why I’m feeling ill right? I need to lower my blood pressure don’t I?
Does that sound familiar? It’s certainly a story that we hear repeatedly at YourPressure and might be one that you can relate to. But, of course, if it was that simple I wouldn’t be writing this blog post would I?
Firstly, it is certainly possible that the story is as simple as it appears. All of the symptoms I listed above can be caused by high blood pressure, and lowering blood pressure can potentially improve them or make them disappear.
However, we also know that those same symptoms are commonly felt when we are run down, anxious, stressed or just generally not on top form. That could be due to a flu or cold virus, a water infection, hayfever, a looming exam or deadline at work or any number of other life events that we all inevitably encounter from time to time. And if we measure our blood pressure when we are run down, anxious, stressed out or generally not on top form we find it is often raised.
Chicken or egg?
You can probably see where I’m going here. We’ve got a classic chicken and egg problem. Is my blood pressure high and therefore causing me to feel ill? Or, am I feeling ill and therefore my blood pressure is high? Tricky!
This matters. If we give you pills to lower your blood pressure when your blood pressure is actually only high because you are having a bad day, we aren’t doing you any favours. Your bad day won’t go away by taking pills. And when it does go away and you are still talking pills, your blood pressure may drop too low making you feel even more ill.
This vital problem is what Colin and I are working to solve with our upcoming mobile app (hopefully with you in the next few weeks). We need a reliable way to tell the difference between people who have high blood pressure most of the time (who will benefit from treatment) and those who simply measured it at the wrong time.
So, what’s the answer to this conundrum? Chicken or egg? As I wrote above, although it is possible that you are feeling ill because your blood pressure is high, this is not usually the case. For most people, their blood pressure is high because they are feeling ill, not the other way around. So, if you measure your blood pressure when you feel ill and get a high reading it isn’t usually helpful. In fact, it often makes people feel even worse!
For this reason, blood pressure is best measured when you are feeling well and relaxed as it helps avoid unrepresentative readings. We wrote another post about how to do that here.
So, hang on. Why do doctors and nurses measure your blood pressure when you feel ill? Good question. In most circumstances we are checking for low blood pressure which, combined with some symptoms, can be an important indicator of how ill you are. I’ll write about that in my next post…