Having high blood pressure is something we are brought up being warned to avoid as we travel towards old age, but it is more common than you might think. According to the UK Government, high blood pressure affects more than 1 in 4 adults in England, which was around 12.5 million people in 2015 and of that affected 31% of adult men and 26% women.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains: “Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries – the vessels that carry your blood from your heart to your brain and the rest of your body. You need a certain amount of pressure to get the blood moving round your body.
“Your blood pressure naturally goes up and down throughout the day and night, and it’s normal for it to go up while you’re moving about. It’s when your overall blood pressure is consistently high, even when you are resting, that you need to do something about it.”
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension, and having it can lead to heart and circulatory diseases like heart attack or stroke. It can also cause kidney failure, heart failure, problems with your sight and vascular dementia. It’s not something you should ignore and hope will go away on its own. The symptoms of severe hypertension can include headaches, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, flushing, dizziness, chest pain, visual changes and blood in the urine. If you experience any of these then please go and see a doctor.
The best way to know that if you have high blood pressure is to go to your GP and get it measured. All adults over 40 are advised to have their blood pressure checked at least every five years. The NHS says that “blood pressure is recorded with 2 numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body”.
They add that as a general guide:
• high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher (or 150/90mmHg or higher if you're over the age of 80)
• ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
You could be at risk of developing high blood pressure include if you are middle-aged, have a family history of high blood pressure, are of African or Caribbean origin, have a high amount of salt in your food, you don’t do enough exercise, are overweight, drink large amounts of alcohol, if you smoke or if you have had long-term sleep deprivation.
Some medicines can also increase your blood pressure, including the contraceptive pill, steroids, some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some pharmacy cough and cold remedies, some herbal remedies, cocaine and amphetamines and some antidepressants.
Your doctor will recommend whether you need to be on medication for high blood pressure, but there are also lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your blood pressure or to prevent it rising in the first place.
The Healthline suggests that you could start by developing a healthy diet including lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein like fish. They explain: “A heart-healthy diet is vital for helping to reduce high blood pressure. It’s also important for managing hypertension that is under control and reducing the risk of complications.”
They also suggest increasing your physical activity and reaching a healthy weight. “Reaching a healthy weight should include being more physically active. In addition to helping you shed pounds, exercise can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure naturally, and strengthen your cardiovascular system. Aim to get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That’s about 30 minutes five times per week.”
Another factor that increases our risk of developing high blood pressure is stress, so it’s a good idea that we are able to learn to manage it appropriately. “Exercise is a great way to manage stress. Other activities can also be helpful. These include meditation, deep breathing, massage, muscle relaxation and yoga or tai chi.”
It’s also advisable to cut down on your drinking and to quit smoking if you want to lower your blood pressure back down to a healthy number. If you are struggling to do either of these things, speak to your GP for some advice.