Heart

High blood pressure

Heart

19 March 2021

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Around 16 million people in the UK are suffering with high blood pressure. That equates to around 1 in 3 adults and rises up to at least 1 in 2 in people aged over 65 (Age UK, 2021). Do you know if yours is high and how you can prevent it?

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a very common medical condition, which often has no noticeable symptoms, so you may not realise you have it until your blood pressure is checked by your doctor (NHS, 2021). 

Our blood pressure refers to the pressure that is exerted onto our blood vessels when blood is pumped around the body by the heart. It's measured by two numbers; systolic and diastolic pressures, both measured in mmHg.

The systolic pressure (the higher number) is a measure of the force at which you heart pumps blood around the body, the diastolic pressure (the lower number) refers to the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels (NHS, 2021; Patient UK, 2021). When we are given a blood pressure reading this is referred to as systolic pressure/diastolic pressure e.g 120/80 mmHg.

As a general guide, we would be considered to have high blood pressure if:

  • as an adult our blood pressure is 140/90mmHg or above
  • if you are over the age of 80 and your blood pressure s 150/90 mmHg or above.

(While we will all have different 'normal' blood pressures, and our blood pressure will fluctuate day to day and throughout the day an 'ideal' blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80mmHg (NHS, 2021).

Complications of high blood pressure

If our blood pressure remains elevated for long periods of time this can put an extra strain on our heart and cardiovascular system, as well as other organs in the body including our eyes, kidneys and brain. This puts us at higher risk of developing certain conditions, some off which may be potentially serious or life changing (NHS,2021). Some of these potential complications include:

  • Strokes
  • Heart attack
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart failure
  • Aortic aneurysms.

While this can all sound quite overwhelming, the good news is that high blood pressure is a very treatable condition and there are lots of lifestyle changes you can employ to reduce your blood pressure. Even a small reduction in your blood pressure can have a great impact on your health and wellbeing and reduce the risks of complications.

Keep scrolling to find out what causes high blood pressure and how you can help yourself keep your blood pressure under control.

blood pressure infographic

Causes of high blood pressure

Whilst we may not be able to diagnose a specific cause for why someone has high blood pressure, there are certainly some lifestyle and genetic factors that can increase the risk of us developing high blood pressure. Some of the common risk factors of high blood pressure are:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a high salt diet
  • Limited physical activity
  • High levels of alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Difficulties with sleep
  • High caffeine intake
  • Older age
  • Genetics - having a family history of high blood pressure may mean we are at a higher risk of developing it ourselves
  • Being of black African or black Caribbean descent. (BHF, 2021; NHS, 2021)

Whilst there are some risk factors that we cannot change, being aware of these can be helpful in knowing whether we may be at higher risk and should have our blood pressure monitored more closely by our GP.

Treatments for high blood pressure

While having a high blood pressure may make us at higher risk of developing the complications listed above, the good news is that hypertension is very treatable with medications and there are a number of lifestyle changes that can have a big positive impact.

When we are diagnosed with hypertension our GP will often first offer some guidance on lifestyle changes to see if that is enough to reduce the blood pressure down to a safe level. Some of these lifestyle factors include:

  • Losing weight if appropriate
  • Maintaining a low salt, healthy diet
  • Engaging in regular exercise
  • Managing stress levels
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake. (NHS, 2021; NICE, 2021)

If you're struggling to make any of these changes then your GP is often helpful in providing support in these areas, such as assistance with giving up smoking or maintaining a healthy diet (NICE, 2021). Or take a look at our articles on quitting smoking and how to lose weight well for some useful tips. We also have a whole host of dietary advice - as well as lots of delicious recipes for you to try in our diet and nutrition hub.

Sometimes, despite engaging in all the lifestyle changes as above, unfortunately our blood pressure can remain high; if this is the case it may be that your GP will need to look into any medications that might help to reduce your blood pressure. There are a number of different medications out there and your GP will be able to decide which is most appropriate for you; if you would like to discuss potential medications further you can always contact one of our pharmacists here in the Health at Hand team. You can call us directly on 0800003004; we have pharmacists available 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 8am-4pm on Saturdays and 8am-12pm on Sunday; nurses are available 24 hours a day to offer further medical information.

Further reading

10 health benefits of stopping smoking - AXA Health

How much salt should I have per day? - AXA Health

6 exercises to lower blood pressure - AXA Health

Getting active - your way - AXA Health

Feeling sluggish? 9 pick-me-ups that are caffeine free - AXA Health

Mindful breathing tips - AXA Health

References

Age UK, 2021. High blood pressure. Available at: Blood Pressure: Do I have high blood pressure | Age UK. (Accessed 19 March 2021).

BHF (British Heart Foundation) 2021. Available at: What are the causes of high blood pressure? | BHF. (Accessed 19 March 2021).

NICE, 2021. Hypertension in adults: diagnosis and management. 1.4 Treatment and monitoring of hypertension. Available at: Hypertention in adults: diagnosis and management | NICE. (Accessed 19 March 2021).

NHS, 2021. High blood pressure (hypertension). Available at: High blood pressure (hypertension) | NHS. (Accessed 19 March 2021).

Patient UK, 2021. Hypertension. Available at: Hypertension information. High blood pressure symptoms | Patient UK. (Accessed 19 March 2021).

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