Q. How do I know if I have high blood pressure – and if I have – how can I reduce it?

A. Blood pressure is measured and is given as two figures:

• systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart pushes blood out

• diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats

For example, if your blood pressure is "140 over 90" or 140/90mmHg.

As a general guide if you have no other medical problems

• high blood pressure is considered to be 150/90mmHg or higher

• low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower

• Anything in between is fine

If you have raised blood pressure, then first - look at any lifestyle measures you could improve (eg, lose some weight, cutting back on alcohol, start exercising). Most of us know where we can improve.

Left untreated, high blood pressure can increase your risk of developing a number of serious long-term health conditions, such as coronary heart disease and kidney disease.

Low blood pressure is less common but can cause fainting which is distressing. Again there are most commonly lifestyle changes that can help.

Your doctor or nurse may take your blood pressure using a stethoscope and timing your pulse, but many people these days have an electronic machine at home – which is incredibly accurate.

If you have one take your reading when you are calm and unlikely to be distracted, and take the lowest of three readings spaced apart by a few minutes. If you regularly get a high, or a low reading contact your GP Practice for advice.

High blood pressure isn’t usually something that you can feel or notice, but if you have it you’re more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a stroke.

As many as seven million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure, without knowing they are at risk.

There isn’t always an explanation for the cause of high blood pressure, but these can play a part:

• not doing enough physical activity

• being overweight or obese

• having too much salt in your diet

• regularly drinking too much alcohol or

• having a family history of high blood pressure.

Even if you don't have high blood pressure, making some simple lifestyle changes may help prevent you developing it in the future.

These may include increasing your physical activity, losing weight, reducing the salt in your diet, cutting down on alcohol and eating a balanced, healthy diet. Opposite of the causes really.

If that doesn’t work, your doctor is likely to suggest medication to control it and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

If you are already being treated for high blood pressure and have any concerns about it, you should make an appointment with your GP. Do not stop taking your medication unless your GP tells you to.

Q. The NHS is really confusing - who do I get medical advice from?

A. The range of health services available appears confusing but there are some simple rules to follow if you need some help that mean you won’t go too far wrong.

For general questions, ask friends or family (they often have experienced something similar), or go online to www.nhs.uk or call 111.

If you have medication queries, ask your local pharmacist and if you have an eye problem, be it affecting your vision or just irritating your eyes, ask your optician.

Have a look on You Tube. There are videos from our local strategy, Better Care Together, which give advice on common conditions.

For any medical problem, speak to your General Practice and they will signpost you in the right direction, or make you an appointment. This might be a telephone call and often will not be with a GP. Always phone as early as possible if you need help from a GP.

Talk to someone. There are fantastic services like MIND or First Step, who offer talking therapies and you can self-refer. Online there is also great help available so search for what you are looking for.

Educate yourself. The internet and the local library have some great self-help guides.

Some surgeries can help with minor accidents. When General practice is shut, call 111 and you will get through to Cumbria Health On Call or CHOC.

Finally there is Accident & Emergency for the most serious conditions or accidents needing expert immediate treatment. You may go by ambulance, or go there by yourself. Please remember this is only for the most serious conditions.

Every part of the system will treat you as quickly as they can, but will be busy, so please try and use services wisely and you’ll get the best out of it.

Our health service staff are brilliant whether they are in the hospital, in our community or in a GP Practice; whether they are a doctor, a nurse, a therapist, a receptionist or one of the supporting team members that help make things work.

However, they’re not superhuman and they still need to learn continuously so you receive the best treatment possible.

And there are always new drugs, methods and ways of looking at things circulated to GP Practices from a number of different sources.

We work together to ensure the most important stuff is enacted as soon as possible by all.

As there’s a finite resource which hasn’t increased in the last seven years, our GP Practices have formed a formal alliance across south Cumbria and, along with colleagues in north Lancashire, we are trying to learn across Morecambe Bay. This allows us to future-proof your General Practice and ensure it continues to improve and provide the best quality care it can.

In recent times this has helped us improve local recruitment and ensure things such as dressings provision or phlebotomy are provided in a quality way. While we hope this just appears seamlessly to you, all of general practice are working with other organisations such as your local hospital to do this.

The service is not perfect, we know, but if you have suggestions on how to make it better then please tell your practice. It might be possible to make positive changes.