High Blood Pressure FAQs
- What is high blood pressure?
- What is blood pressure and how do you measure it?
- What should my blood pressure normally be?
- Why is high blood pressure so dangerous?
- What are the most common symptoms of high blood pressure?
- How often should I have my blood pressure checked?
- What causes high blood pressure?
- How can I lower high blood pressure?
- Can anyone develop high blood pressure?
- Is high blood pressure common?
High blood pressure describes the condition where the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. It’s also known as hypertension and affects a third of British adults. High blood pressure means the heart is forced to contract harder to circulate blood through the body, which can cause vessels to split, damage organs, and cause heart attacks and strokes.
Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Your blood pressure is at its highest when the heart beats, which is called systolic pressure. Your diastolic pressure is measured in between beats, when the heart relaxes.
When blood pressure is measured, it’s always presented as two numbers. The first number relates to the systolic pressure, and the second number is the diastolic pressure. If you have a high blood pressure, it will measure 140/90mm Hg or above. This means that the pressure of the blood against your vessels when the heart pumps is 140 and the pressure when the heart rests is 90.
How to measure blood pressure
A normal blood pressure reading will be 120/80mm Hg or under. When your blood pressure creeps above this limit, you should consider taking steps to lower it. If your blood pressure reaches 140/mm Hg or above, you will be classed as hypertensive.
If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, your threshold of a normal blood pressure is a little lower. You’d be classed as hypertensive if your blood pressure exceeds 130/mm Hg.
It’s important to know that it’s the higher measurement that is used to diagnose high blood pressure. This means that if your blood pressure was 160/mm Hg, you’d be classed as hypertensive even though your diastolic blood pressure is considered normal.
High blood pressure is known to be a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and dementia. If you have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to develop these conditions than others who aren’t hypertensive.
A high blood pressure means that your heart is forced to work extra hard to ensure that blood is circulated around your body, because your blood vessels have tightened. Over time this can make your blood vessels clog up or weaken, which can cause a narrowing of blood vessels or blood clotting.
In some cases, a high blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to bulge, called an aneurysm. This is known as a ‘silent killer’, because it’s often symptom-free but can still cause the blood vessels to burst. This haemorrhaging is painful, so people usually only find out they’ve had an aneurysm when it haemorrhages. Haemorrhaging can cause massive internal bleeding which could result in permanent disability or death, depending on where the aneurysm is located.
Furthermore, high blood pressure can cause heart failure, kidney failure and some eye conditions.
One of the scariest things about high blood pressure is that it usually doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms. That’s why it’s known as a ‘silent killer’; many people only learn they’ve got a dangerously high blood pressure when they suffer from a stroke, a heart attack or haemorrhaging.
The only way to know if you’re hypertensive is to get your blood pressure measured by a doctor.
You should get your blood pressure checked at least once a year, according to guidance from the Blood Pressure Association. If your blood pressure is above the normal rate of 120/mm Hg, you should have it checked more often.
People with high blood pressure will need to be checked regularly, but the frequency depends on the course of treatment you’re prescribed and your condition.
You can get your blood pressure measured at a doctor’s surgery and health centre, as well as at some high street pharmacies and gyms or fitness centres.
There are two types of high blood pressure that are categorised separately because their causes vary and they are treated differently. Primary hypertension doesn’t have a single identifiable cause but can be affected by lifestyle choices or genetics, whereas secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying medical issue or as a side effect of taking certain medications.
With primary hypertension, factors such as eating food with a high fat or salt content, being stressed, not exercising enough, being overweight or drinking too much are known to have an influence. A family history of high blood pressure is also known to raise the risk of developing high blood pressure.
It’s known that suffering from medical conditions affecting the body’s tissue, such as lupus, as well as taking medication like ibuprofen or suffering from hormonal conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome, can all cause secondary hypertension.
Once you’ve established if you have primary or secondary hypertension, you will be able to treat hypertension in a number of ways. Lifestyle changes will help alleviate primary hypertension. This could be anything from eating a healthier diet or reducing your salt intake to exercising more frequently. Secondary hypertension can be treated by changing the medication you’re currently on, if it’s considered to be a contributing factor.
Whether you suffer from primary or secondary hypertension, there is a range of medications that can help lower high blood pressure. To learn about treatment options, you can read our guide or complete an online consultation with one of our registered doctors who will be able to prescribe the best medication for you.
Anybody can develop high blood pressure; however, certain people are more susceptible to hypertension than others.
You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure if you experience any of the following factors:
- If you have a history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack in your family
- If you have diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease
- If you have an unhealthy lifestyle, for example if you’re overweight, if you eat too much salt or if you’re inactive
- If you’re older: the risk increases as we age, to the extent that over half of people aged 60 and above are hypertensive
Yes. One in three people suffer from high blood pressure. Perhaps most shocking is the fact that 18% of men and 13% of women are estimated to suffer from hypertension but aren’t receiving treatment for it.
Hypertension is more common in older people. Statistics show that just 16% of men aged between 25 and 44 have high blood pressure. This increases to 34% of men aged 45 to 54; it jumps to 47% of men aged between 55 and 64; and soars to 60% for men over 65.
This trend is also seen with women, who in general have a reduced risk of high blood pressure until they reach 55, when they are almost as likely to develop high blood pressure as men of a similar age.
Just 3% of women aged 25 to 34 suffer from high blood pressure, and only 10% of women aged 25 to 44 are hypertensive. This increases to 26% of women aged 45 to 54 suffering from high blood pressure.