High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure describes the pressure of blood within the heart and vessels.

A high blood pressure means the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood around the body. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is dangerous because it can weaken your heart and cause the arteries to split over time, which are both triggers of a stroke.

In Europe, just one in five people who have high blood pressure get it checked monthly. Furthermore, a third of people who try to lower their high blood pressure forget to take their medication.

You can treat hypertension in a number of ways, ranging from lifestyle changes to diet improvements or being prescribed beta-blockers, for example.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure doesn’t usually cause any noticeable symptoms; the only way to know is to have a test. However, there are a number of ways your body may respond to high blood pressure which should serve as a warning. In rare cases you might experience headaches, blurred or double vision, nosebleeds and shortness of breath.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is known as a silent killer because at least half of people don’t realise they have it. In the majority of cases, you’ll only know you’re suffering from hypertension if your doctor measures your blood pressure over a period of time to establish if you need to lower your high blood pressure.

Your doctor will measure your blood pressure over time so they can be sure you have genuine high blood pressure, and not an elevated pressure caused by the stress of being at the doctor or other external factors.

What does my test result mean?

When testing your blood pressure, two different measurements will be taken. Systolic pressure describes the pressure exerted when the heart contracts and forces blood around the body; diastolic pressure describes the blood pressure when the heart is resting between beats. Both of these will be measured.

Your result will be one figure over another, with the systolic pressure given first. Normal blood pressure is 120/80mmHg. When deciding if a person has high blood pressure, factors such as age need to be taken into account. Generally a reading over 140mmHg for systolic pressure and 85mmHg for diastolic pressure will mean your blood pressure is elevated and you should think about how you are going to lower your high blood pressure.

What causes high blood pressure?

There are two types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension has no specific cause, but many factors can increase your risk of developing it. Eating a diet high in fat or salt, not exercising enough, obesity, drinking too much alcohol, being stressed or having a family history of hypertension are all known risk factors.

Secondary hypertension can be caused by a range of health problems including hormonal conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome, conditions that affect body tissue such as lupus, or taking certain medications.

How dangerous is high blood pressure?

You must lower high blood pressure because it places your heart under dangerous strain. Your heart has to work much harder to pump blood around your body, which can weaken it with time. If you don’t lower high blood pressure, your arteries can become damaged by a blockage or haemorrhage.

If you don’t lower high blood pressure, it could cause one of the following cardiovascular diseases:

  • Heart attack – when blood supply to the heart is blocked
  • Stroke – when blood supply to the brain is disturbed
  • Aneurysm – a bulge in a blood vessel caused by weakened walls
  • Blood clot – blocks inside blood vessels

If you’re pregnant, your blood pressure will be checked regularly to reduce the risk of developing pregnancy-induced high blood pressure. This can lead to pre-eclampsia, where there is a problem with the placenta.

What treatments can help to lower high blood pressure?

Depending on the kind of high blood pressure you have, and how bad the condition is, you could lower high blood pressure through lifestyle changes, prescribed medication or both.

Lifestyle changes

If your blood pressure is a little over the ideal level of 120/80mmHg, your doctor might advise you to make simple lifestyle changes to reduce it. This could include eating healthier, exercising for at least 30 minutes five times a week or cutting alcohol consumption.

Prescription medication

If your blood pressure is at 140/90mmHg or above, and you’re at risk of developing heart disease, your doctor may prescribe you medication to help lower high blood pressure. There are a few different types of treatment but they all work by relaxing and widening the blood vessels so blood can flow round the body more easily and the heart won’t have to work so hard.