Control high blood pressure

blood pressure monitor

High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease

What is high blood pressure?

If your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be it is called high blood pressure (or hypertension).

High blood pressure is not a disease in itself. However, it can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and strokes. Over the years high blood pressure slowly damages the blood vessels by making them narrower and more rigid. This means that:

  • Your heart has to work harder to push the blood through your blood vessels and the overall blood pressure rises
  • It's easier for clots to get caught and for fatty debris (atheroma) to block your blood vessels

This is what happens in heart attacks and strokes.

Monitoring blood pressure

measuring blood pressure

High blood pressure rarely has any symptoms

High blood pressure very rarely has any symptoms. The only way to know what your blood pressure is, is to have it measured.

High blood pressure is more common as you get older so it's important to get it checked regularly. Your doctor will be able to advise you how often you should have your blood pressure checked. You can also monitor your blood pressure at home using a home monitor.

Measuring blood pressure

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is recorded as two readings:

  • Systolic pressure (higher reading): records the pressure within the blood vessels as the heart contracts
  • Diastolic pressure (lower reading): records the pressure when the heart fills up again

These readings are recorded for example as 120 / 70mmHg.

What is normal blood pressure?

  • Most doctors agree that normal blood pressure is about 120/70mmHg.
  • Up to 140 / 90mmHg is considered to be within the normal range. If your blood pressure is within this range then you have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Drug treatment

  • The aim of drug treatment is to try and get high blood pressure as close to the target range as possible. This is currently 140 / 90mmHg.
  • If you already have cardiovascular disease or diabetes the lower target of 130 / 80mmHg is used.
  • If you are aged over 80 years the higher target range of 150 / 90mmHg is used.

There are several groups of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, each of which work slightly differently.

Lifestyle changes

Changes to lifestyle risk factors can significantly reduce high blood pressure in some people. In particular:

  • Stop smoking: nicotine raises your blood pressure.
  • Control your weight: losing weight will help to lower your blood pressure.
  • Keep active: exercising regularly can bring your blood pressure down by as much as many blood pressure lowering drugs.
  • Moderate alcohol intake: cutting down on your alcohol intake can bring your blood pressure under control. Binge drinking, at any age, can cause a temporary, but significant, rise in blood pressure.
  • Reduce salt in your diet: reducing a high salt intake can sometimes help to lower your blood pressure.
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