High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a potentially serious condition that can lead to heart problems, kidney disease, and stroke, among others. One in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. However, it usually has no symptoms, meaning high blood pressure often goes undiagnosed.
Blood pressure tests are very quick and simple, and it is recommended that you have one on a yearly basis – especially if you fall into a demographic that is at risk from high blood pressure.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of circulating blood against the walls of the arteries. It is recorded as two numbers, presented as a fraction. The two numbers concern:
- Systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood in the arteries when the heart beats to pump blood out.
- Diastolic pressure: the pressure of the blood in the arteries between each heartbeat as the heart refills with blood.
Systolic is placed above diastolic and is always the higher number. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury: mmHg. So a reading of 120mmHg / 70mmHg means your systolic (active) pressure is 120 millimetres of mercury and your diastolic (resting) pressure is 70 millimetres of mercury. Generally, a doctor will just say ‘120 over 70’.
The chart below is taken from Blood Pressure UK. It shows the different categories your blood pressure reading can fall into. A reading of 130 over 85 is slightly high, whereas a reading of 98 over 71 is ideal.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure occurs when the pressure of blood against the artery walls exceeds a healthy reading.
Symptoms of high blood pressure
High blood pressure has no obvious symptoms. Therefore you must get your blood pressure checked regularly regardless of how you might be feeling. Visit your GP to arrange a blood pressure test. Alternatively, you can purchase a Blood Pressure Monitor online.
Causes of high blood pressure
Plenty of factors can cause high blood pressure. Some are controllable, some not:
- Age: as you get older, the risk of developing high blood pressure increases
- Family history: high blood pressure often runs in families
- Ethnicity: people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin are particularly at risk.
- Salt: too much salt is linked to high blood pressure
- Lack of exercise: regular exercise is important for healthy blood pressure
- Being overweight: overweight people tend to have higher blood pressure
- Smoking: smoking raises your blood pressure.
- Excessive alcohol: drinking too much can raise blood pressure.
Potential effects of high blood pressure
High blood pressure (HBP) puts extra strain on your heart and arteries. Over time this can lead to a number of possible conditions including:
- Heart Attack: HBP forces your heart to work harder to pump blood. The increased strain can cause a heart attack.
- Heart Disease: HBP can damage the lining of your arteries, causing arteriosclerosis, where the artery walls thicken and lose their elasticity. This can lead to various forms of heart disease and circulatory problems, which can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
- Stroke: HBP can cause blood clots and weaken blood vessels, limiting blood flow and potentially causing a stroke.
- Kidney Disease: HBP is a common cause of kidney failure; it damages arteries leading to the kidneys and blood vessels within the kidneys.
- Dementia: Narrow and blocked arteries leading to the brain can result in vascular dementia. HBP is often the cause.
Preventing high blood pressure
You can’t change your age or ethnicity, but you can change your lifestyle if you think it is adversely affecting your blood pressure. Consider the following to help reduce your blood pressure:
- Quit Smoking
- Cut down on alcohol consumption: try not to regularly exceed your recommended daily intake (3-4 units per day for men, 2-3 units for women), and have two alcohol-free days per week
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy, low-fat diet
- Lose weight (this will occur naturally if you follow the above two tips)
- Don’t exceed the recommended level of salt – 6g a day. Remember, many foods have added salt
- Watch your caffeine intake – diet of coffee or energy drinks won’t help your blood pressure
If you have any questions regarding high blood pressure, you’re advised to speak to your GP first.
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