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High Blood Pressure

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is when your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be.

High blood pressure is not a disease, but it can lead to increased risk of heart disease and strokes.

Over time, high blood pressure slowly damages blood vessels, making them more narrow and rigid. When this happens, your heart has to work harder to push blood through your blood vessels. Narrow, rigid blood vessels are also more likely to be blocked by a clot or a fatty build-up (atheroma).

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is often very difficult to detect, and you may not have any symptoms. However, you should alert your doctor if you notice:

  • Blurred vision
  • Nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

If you have a pre-existing heart condition, it is vital that changes in your blood pressure or any of your symptoms are reported to your doctor.

Sandra’s blood pressure was sky high

Sandra from Dunfermline had a stroke just as lockdown was beginning in March 2020. Because of the pandemic, the usual support wasn’t there.

“I had to visit my GP because my blood pressure was sky high and that was one of the reasons I had a stroke in the first place,” she explains.

“I was told to wait a week to see if my blood pressure changed and I felt that my situation wasn’t taken very seriously, given I had very recently had a stroke. I left the surgery feeling rather worried and stressed.”

But Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland’s amazing support worker Rhona was there to make sure Sandra got the important medical help she needed.

“Rhona instantly sprang into action and called the doctor for me and suggested they rethink my blood pressure medication. I’ve now been put on new medication and my blood pressure readings have gone down.

“Without Rhona, my stress levels would’ve been shocking. I would’ve been feeling depressed and I wouldn’t be able to cope.”

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How is blood pressure tested?

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

  • Systolic pressure (higher reading): this is the pressure when your heart contracts, pushing blood out into the blood vessels.
  • Diastolic pressure (lower reading): this is the pressure when the heart fills up again

These readings are recorded as a fraction, with the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure – for example, 120 / 70mmHg.

Most doctors agree that a “normal” level of blood pressure is around 120/70mmHg, but the risk of heart attack and stroke only seems to go up significantly above 140/90mmHg.

How is high blood pressure treated?

High blood pressure is usually treated through a combination of drug treatments and lifestyle changes. Which medication is best for you will depend on your age and overall health, but no matter what you’re prescribed, the goal is to bring your blood pressure as close to the target range as possible.

Making lifestyle changes can also improve your blood pressure. In particular: stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, keeping your alcohol intake low, and reducing salt intake can all make a difference.

Making lifestyle changes to improve high blood pressure

Managing your high blood pressure can feel like a huge challenge, but small changes to your lifestyle and habits over time lead to big improvements.

If you’re a smoker, one of the best things that you can do for your heart health is to stop smoking. There are many ways to help quit smoking available to you and your loved ones.

Getting in the habit of exercising daily can improve your heart health, as well as being great for mental and physical health in general. Whether this is a daily walk, yoga, or swimming, even just 30 minutes a day will be beneficial and the more you do it, the easier it will become over time. Even if you struggle to do these activities, there are often more accessible forms of exercise available.

Home cooked meals tend to have a lot less salt than ready meals and takeaways. If you’re prone to reaching for the takeaway menu, try to reduce this over time and get into the habit of cooking homemade meals, even if they’re simple.

Only drink alcohol in moderation and stay hydrated while you’re drinking. In general, try to drink plenty of water every day.

We’re here to help

Feeling worried about how to manage your condition or concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one?
Our Advice Line nurses are here to answer any questions or concerns you may have about high blood pressure. Call 0808 801 0899 for free, confidential advice and support.

Contact the Advice Line

Life after a high blood pressure diagnosis

A high blood pressure diagnosis often means that you need to make changes to your lifestyle, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

You can still live a life that you love, for longer, and we’d like to help you along the way.

Visit our Living with a Heart Condition section for more information about how to manage your condition at home, how to stay well and reduce your risk of future heart conditions.

This page was last updated on July 19, 2022 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact health.information@chss.org.uk to provide feedback.

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