Healthily: High blood pressure (hypertension)
As part of our Wellness Wednesdays campaign, we’ll be sharing a blog every Wednesday from Healthily – our preferred health partner – to give you tips, advice and guidance on a wide variety of health conditions. In acknowledgement of World Hypertension Day, which was on Monday 17th May this year, the first blog in the series is about high blood pressure – what it is, who’s most at risk and how to treat it.
High blood pressure – or hypertension – rarely has obvious symptoms. The only way of knowing if there’s a problem is to have your blood pressure measured.
All adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every 5 years. If you haven’t had yours measured, or you don’t know what your blood pressure reading is, ask a health professional to check it for you.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries (large blood vessels) as it’s pumped around your body by your heart. If this pressure is too high, it puts a strain on your arteries and heart, which makes it more likely that you’ll suffer a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.
Who’s most at risk?
Your chances of having high blood pressure increase as you get older. There’s often no clear cause of high blood pressure, but you may be at an increased risk if you:
- are overweight
- have a family history of high blood pressure
- are of African or Caribbean descent
- eat a lot of salt
- don’t do enough exercise
- drink a lot of alcohol
- have long-term (chronic) stress
About 10% of high blood pressure cases are the result of an underlying condition or cause, such as kidney disease or diabetes.
If you fall into any of the groups listed above, consider making changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk of high blood pressure. Also consider having your blood pressure checked more often, ideally once a year.
How can you prevent high blood pressure?
You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure by:
- losing weight if you need to
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthy diet
- cutting back if you drink a lot of alcohol
- cutting down on salt and caffeine
- stopping smoking
Find out more about how to prevent high blood pressure.
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure usually has no obvious symptoms and many people may not know they have it. However, in some rare cases, where a person has very high blood pressure, they can experience symptoms, including:
- a headache that won’t go away
- blurred or double vision
- shortness of breath
Visit a doctor as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms.
Diagnosing high blood pressure
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. This can be done by a doctor or another healthcare professional, and you can also check it yourself with a home testing kit.
Healthy adults aged over 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every 5 years. If you’re at an increased risk of high blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked more often, ideally once a year.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and it’s recorded as 2 figures:
- systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart beats to pump blood out
- diastolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart rests in between beats
For example, if a doctor says your blood pressure is “130 over 90”, it means you have a systolic pressure of 130mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.
A blood pressure reading below 130/80mmHg is considered to be normal.
Treatment for high blood pressure
- slightly above 130/80mmHg but your risk of cardiovascular disease is low, you should be able to lower your blood pressure by making some changes to your lifestyle
- moderately high (140/90mmHg or above) and you’re at risk of cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years, treatment will involve medication and lifestyle adjustments
- very high (180/110mmHg or above), you’ll need treatment immediately, possibly with further tests, depending on your health.
If your blood pressure is found to be high, it’ll need to be closely monitored until it’s brought under control.
Below are some changes you can make to your lifestyle to reduce high blood pressure:
- cut your salt intake to less than 6g a day
- eat a healthy, low-fat, balanced diet, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- be active: being physically active is one of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure
- cut down on alcohol
- stop smoking – smoking greatly increases your chances of getting heart and lung diseases
- lose weight
- drink less coffee, tea or other caffeine-rich drinks such as cola. Drinking more than 4 cups of coffee a day may increase your blood pressure
- try relaxation therapies, such as yoga, meditation and stress management
The more healthy habits you adopt, the greater effect there’s likely to be on lowering your blood pressure. In fact, some people find that by sticking to a healthy lifestyle they don’t need to take any medicines at all. Find out more about preventing high blood pressure.
Medication for high blood pressure
You can choose from a wide range of medicines to lower your blood pressure. You may need to take more than one type of medication because a combination of drugs is sometimes needed to treat high blood pressure.
In some cases, you may need to take medication for the rest of your life. However, if your blood pressure levels stay under control for several years, you might be able to stop your treatment.
You can read the full article in the Healthily Health Library where it was originally published.