According to Blood Pressure UK 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure in the UK, and half of people with high blood pressure do not know they have it and are not receiving treatment. High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, affects so many people and is a dangerous condition which is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. Those who are diagnosed with high blood pressure receive treatment to control it and bring it down to an ideal level with medication. There are a range of medications available to help manage high blood pressure including beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.
One of the leading causes of high blood pressure is an unhealthy lifestyle of smoking, being overweight and lack of exercise. Making changes to your lifestyle is another way of lowering blood pressure if it’s too high. Blood pressure is simple and easy to measure, and you can find out your blood pressure measurements at your GP surgery, pharmacy or you can do it yourself at home.
“Having healthy blood pressure is so important to avoid damage to the vital organs and developing long term health conditions such as heart disease. Knowing your blood pressure measurements is the best way to know whether you are living with dangerously high or low blood pressure. If you do have high blood pressure there are ways of controlling it with changes to lifestyle or medication.”
High blood pressure
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the strength of the blood pushing against the blood vessels as it pumps around the body. Blood pressure measures this force of the heart pumping blood around the body. Some people have high blood pressure or low blood pressure, both of which can be dangerous to your health. The only way to know your blood pressure levels is to have a test, there are many people living with dangerous levels of blood pressure without knowing.
High blood pressure is usually a result of an unhealthy lifestyle and puts you at greater risk of developing long term health conditions. Low blood pressure is equally as dangerous but is less common and can be a side effect of medication or symptomatic of serious life-threatening conditions such as heart failure. It’s important to get to know your blood pressure levels to know your risks.
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure can be measured by your GP or nurse or you can even measure your blood pressure yourself at home. A machine is used to measure blood pressure, a cuff is wrapped around the top of the arm which inflates and tightens around the arm and the air is then release and a gauge gives a reading of your blood pressure. A blood pressure machine gives a reading which tells you if your blood pressure is high, low or normal. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and two figures are presented which represent systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. For instance a normal blood pressure reading will be between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80 mmHg, the first figure representing systolic pressure and the second figure representing diastolic pressure.
As the heart is constantly beating and pumping blood through the arteries two figures are given to measure the different activities of the heart. Systolic pressure measures the blood pressure when your heart is beating and diastolic pressure measures blood pressure when your heart is resting in between beats.
If you’re blood pressure reading is 140/90 mmHg or higher you are considered to have high blood pressure.
What causes blood pressure to become high?
High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension affects 1 in 3 adults in the UK and for most it’s difficult to know the cause. However, in a lot of cases of high blood pressure the cause is an unhealthy lifestyle or an underlying health condition.
High blood pressure can occur gradually over a number of years and is more common in adults but children can also have high blood pressure. Health conditions which put you at a higher risk of developing hypertension include:
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Kidney problems
- Thyroid problems
- Congenital defects in the blood vessels
Some medications can also have an effect on blood pressure and raise it to unhealthy levels. The following medications have a tendency to cause high blood pressure.
- The contraceptive pill
- Steroid medication
- NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen etc)
- Cough and cold medication
- Illegal, recreational drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines
There are also certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. If you’re older you’re more likely to have high blood pressure as blood pressure increases with age. Men are also more prone to high blood pressure but women’s risks increase after the age of 50.
High blood pressure can also be hereditary and run in families, so if your parents have high blood pressure you’re also more likely to have this condition.
If you also live an unhealthy lifestyle with no exercise, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and are overweight your blood pressure is more likely to increase.
Why is high blood pressure dangerous?
When your blood pressure is heightened to above normal your risk of developing life-threatening conditions increases. High blood pressure is particularly dangerous if you don’t know you have it, and most people aren’t aware they have high blood pressure. Hypertension can significantly affect your quality of life if you develop a long term health condition as a result which is why it’s so important to check your blood pressure and know your numbers.
Hypertension can cause damage to the arteries. As the pressure on the blood flow increases it can cause narrowing arteries, aneurysms and damage to the heart, eventually leading to heart failure. High blood pressure can affect other organs in the body including the brain and eyes. You’re at higher risk of developing strokes, dementia and damage to the blood vessels in the eyes if you have high blood pressure. If hypertension is not controlled you may also develop damage and scarring of the kidneys and eventually kidney failure.
These are all serious life threatening health conditions which is why it’s vital that your blood pressure is under control if it is too high.
Can high blood pressure be treated?
Yes, high blood pressure can be treated and managed. First and foremost the best way to treat high blood pressure is to make some lifestyle changes, however, there is medication available to treat hypertension. Making changes to your diet and bad habits will bring your blood pressure down naturally and you may be able to avoid taking medication. Reduce your salt intake and having a more balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is the way to go. This combined with exercising will help you to lose weight if being overweight is the cause of your hypertension.
If you have high blood pressure and you smoke and drink too much alcohol you are at an even greater risk of developing all of the health conditions associated with hypertension. It’s very wise to quit smoking and drink less alcohol or cut it out completely if you’re above the normal levels of blood pressure.
Treating high blood pressure with medication
If your blood pressure is dangerously high and lifestyle changes are not enough to control your blood pressure you may be prescribed medication. Medications which are used to treat hypertension include:
- ACE inhibitors
- Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Calcium channel blockers
These medications work to reduce blood pressure. ACE inhibitors do so by relaxing the blood vessels and ARBs work in a similar way but are often the second option if ACE inhibitors are causing severe side effects. Calcium channel blockers reduce blood pressure by widening the blood vessels and beta-blockers slow down the heart beat so there is less force. Diuretics, on the other hand, reduce blood pressure by flushing excess water and salt from the body (which causes blood pressure to raise) when passing urine.
You may experience side effects when taking medication and common side effects of high blood pressure medication are dizziness and headaches along with other side effects which are associated with the individual medications.
However, prevention is better than cure so ensure you’re living a healthy, active lifestyle to keep your blood pressure at an ideal level.