High blood pressure

Around 16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack and kidney disease, as well as vascular dementia.

Blood pressure (BP) refers to the pressure your blood is put under as it travels through your arteries. When the blood pushes hard against your artery walls, your blood pressure rises and this puts extra strain on your heart and arteries.

High blood pressure has no symptoms and a third of people who have it aren't aware of it–or that they are at risk of developing serious, life-threatening conditions.

Experts say around 62,000 deaths a year could be prevented in the UK if blood pressure was better controlled.

Causes

In 95 per cent of cases there is no identifiable cause.But risk factors for high blood pressure include: getting older;having asalt-heavy diet;drinking too much alcohol;being overweight; not eating enough fruit and vegetables; and not getting enough exercise.

Some medical conditions, such as sleep apnoea, chronic kidney disease and thyroid problems, can raise blood pressure - as can prescription medicines, including asthma medication and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Symptoms

Unfortunately, one of the problems with diagnosing high blood pressure is that it very rarely has any noticeable symptoms at all. Therefore, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Diagnosis

To find out whether you have high blood pressure you will need tohaveit measuredusing a blood pressure monitor - preferably by a doctor or nurse at your local surgery. This involves having an inflatablecuff wrapped around your upper arm which the doctor or nurse inflatesuntil it feels tight. A digital display connected to the inflated cuff displays the figures to show your blood pressure levels.

Blood pressure readings have two numbers. The top number is your systolicblood pressure;the highest pressure to whichyour heart beats and pushes the blood around your body. The bottom one is your diastolicblood pressure;the lowest pressure to which your heart relaxes between beats.

Optimal blood pressure is 120/80, but the Blood Pressure Association says most people have blood pressure in the range 120/80 to 140/80. You have high blood pressure if your reading is consistently 140/90 or higher over a couple of weeks.

Who gets high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can affect anyone, thoughit’s more likely to develop as you age - particularly from 65 onwards.

Age can be especially relevant if you haven’t had very healthy habits throughout your life. The effects of eating too much salt and drinking too much alcohol - both of which are risk factors - can build up over time and increase your risk of high blood pressure.

Having a family history of high blood pressure can raise your risk too, as can your ethnicity. Pople who have South Asian or African-Caribbean originsfor example, have an increased risk of high blood pressure.

Treatments

If your blood pressure is too high you’ll be advised to make some lifestyle changes to bring it down, including: taking more exercise; eating more fruit and vegetables; reducing alcohol intake; and cutting down the amount of salt you eat. Adults are recommended to eat no more than 6g of salt a day, though most of us are consuming double that.Processed foods, such as bacon and canned soups have a high salt content - as does bread - so cut down on these.

Some people may need to take medication to help regulate their blood pressure. Pills prescribed include: ACE-inhibitors, which block a hormone that raises blood pressure; beta-blockers, which block the effects of adrenaline; and diuretics, which cause the kidneys to remove more sodium and water from the body, which relaxes blood vessel walls.

Supplements which may help lower blood pressure include garlic and magnesium. One study found that co-enzyme Q10 had the potential to lower systolic blood pressure by 17mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 10mmHg without significant side effects. Studies have also found an association between low vitamin D levels and high blood pressure, although a causal link hasn't been established yet.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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