High Blood Pressure

Updated 10th Sep 2020

It’s important for all adults to know what their blood pressure numbers are. High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, is incredibly common. According to Blood Pressure UK, there are 6 million people in the UK that have high blood pressure and aren’t aware. While it’s natural for your blood pressure to fluctuate to a certain extent, if your blood pressure remains high over a period of time, it needs to be managed or treated otherwise it can lead to serious problems, such as heart attacks or strokes.

 

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure (hypertension) means that your blood pressure is too high and is causing your heart to work harder to pump blood around your body. Even though it is a very common condition and can be effectively managed, it is serious and can lead to potentially fatal heart and circulatory diseases among damage to vessels and other organs.

What is Low Blood Pressure?

Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is a reading below 90/60mmHg. Causes of low blood pressure include a variety of factors such as being fit, having diabetes, or being pregnant. In most cases, making some lifestyle changes or treating what is causing the hypotension can effectively improve blood pressure.

 

Causes of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure doesn’t always have an exact cause that can be identified. There are two different types of high blood pressure; primary and secondary hypertension. Primary hypertension, or essential hypertension, develops over time and has no known cause. This is the most common type. There are usually theories about the factors that contributed to the development of this condition based on the individual that has been diagnosed. These include diet, lifestyle habits, or underlying health conditions.

Secondary hypertension is when a cause can be identified. In these cases, the high blood pressure tends to develop quickly and more severely than primary hypertension. There are a number of conditions that can result in secondary hypertension. Some of these are:

  • Kidney disease
  • Medication side effect (such as with the contraceptive pill)
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Diabetes
  • Problems with adrenal glands

High Blood Pressure Risks

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. These include:

  • Being of black african or black caribbean descent
  • Being over the age of 35
  • Being pregnant
  • Smoking
  • Eating too much salt
  • Not exercising enough
  • Being overweight
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

 

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

The significant number of adults that are unaware that they have high blood pressure is due to the fact that it rarely comes with noticeable symptoms, if any at all. If you do experience symptoms, these can include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Breathlessness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain

Without any symptoms at all, high blood pressure can continue to develop over a number of years before it becomes noticeable. In these cases, the symptoms can present as those above, and/or flushing, blood in the urine and more. If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if you are in any of the risk groups, it’s important to get medical attention immediately.

It’s important to note that due to how unlikely it is to show any significant symptoms of high blood pressure before it is severe, it is essential to get blood pressure readings done on a regular basis.

 

Getting Your Blood Pressure Checked

Getting your blood pressure checked is a very quick and non invasive process. A sphygmomanometer would be wrapped around your upper arm. This would be a pressure cuff attached to a small digital monitor with the reading. In some cases the cuff is inflated using a small pump, in others you can simply press a button and it expands electronically.

The reading shows two numbers; the systolic and diastolic pressures. These two numbers indicate the highest and lowest levels of your blood pressure - when the heart beats and contracts, and when the heart relaxes between each.

Where You Can Get Your Blood Pressure Checked

In order to get your blood pressure checked by a medical professional, you can do so at:

The NHS health check is a free check up for those aged between 40 and 74 in England. In other parts of the UK, you should speak to your doctor about what is available to you.

Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home

You can check your blood pressure yourself at home. Many people do this when they have already been diagnosed with hypertension, or when they are at a high risk of developing it. Because of this, they take regular readings to help them manage their blood pressure. If you’ve been advised to do this by a medical professional, it’s likely you will be told what to look out for and how to do it. This may include checking your readings against a Blood Pressure Chart for Adults, or entering it into a Blood Pressure Calculator. You can however decide at any time that you want to do it yourself. Blood pressure can be affected by age in that a normal or healthy blood pressure reading for an adult would be different to that of a child. Therefore if you are taking blood pressure readings for a child, first discuss it with a medical professional so you know what to look out for. 

You can watch the video by the British Heart Foundation below to find out how to check your blood pressure yourself.

 

Diagnosing Hypertension

Blood pressure readings tend to be taken as a standard part of a routine check up. If your doctor doesn’t offer to take one, you can request one. If, based on your medical or family history, your doctor believes you are at a high risk, it’s likely that your blood pressure will be taken more regularly.

Diagnosing high blood pressure is a simple process. It involves taking a blood pressure reading, which will initially identify the raised blood pressure numbers, and then subsequent readings over a period of time to assess if the high blood pressure is continuous. This is because you may have had a high reading because of a number of temporary factors such as being stressed in that moment or setting. Once hypertension has been identified, your doctor may then take you through a few more tests to rule out possible underlying conditions.

 

Treating High Blood Pressure

Once hypertension is diagnosed, doctors commonly start treatment right away. If your blood pressure is particularly high, it’s likely that you will be given medication to lower your blood pressure. This will also be the case if you have one or more of these conditions:

  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • Heart disease
  • Circulatory disease
  • High risk of the above

In many cases, you would be prescribed more than one medication to manage your blood pressure as that’s known to be more effective than just one. The medications could include:

  • Alpha-blockers
  • Beta-blockers
  • Diuretics
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • ARBs

You may also be put on a treatment plan that will include lifestyle changes to help you manage your blood pressure.

 

Managing Your Blood Pressure

Knowing what could have a negative or positive effect on your blood pressure is important to know regardless of your current medical state, whether or not you have been diagnosed with hypertension, or your risk factor. This is because high blood pressure can go unnoticed for a long enough time to cause serious risks to your health. The home remedies for managing your blood pressure are also effective for taking care of your general health. However, if you are high risk, or you have hypertension, it is recommended that you are much stricter when it comes to taking care of your blood pressure.

Aside from checking your blood pressure regularly, at home or by a medical professional, there are a number of other things you can do to lower or manage your blood pressure. This involves diet, exercise and stress management:

  1. Eat a balanced diet - refer to NHS’ Eatwell Guide
  2. Reduce your salt intake - it is advisable to not cook with any salt, and cut out processed food
  3. Maintain a healthy weight - you can check what the recommended weight is for your height by calculating your BMI, but if you’re not sure you should speak to your doctor
  4. Reduce your alcohol intake - don’t drink more than the recommended alcohol units
  5. Don’t smoke - follow these self help tips to help you quit smoking 
  6. Exercise regularly - aim to move regularly and have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week

 

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