High blood pressure - also known as hypertension - describes a medical condition where the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. Over time, high blood pressure can weaken your heart and cause your arteries to split; both factors that are known triggers of a stroke. Worryingly, it's estimated that 18% of men and 13% of women who have high blood pressure aren't seeking treatment for it.
There are a number of different medications that can treat hypertension, as well as many lifestyle changes you can make to help lower high blood pressure, whether that includes eating less fat or salt in your diet or being prescribed beta-blockers, for example.
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High blood pressure doesn't cause any symptoms or immediate problems. This means that, in most cases, the only way you'll know if you're suffering from hypertension is if your doctor measures your blood pressure over a period of time to establish if you have a persistent problem.
Measuring blood pressure allows medical experts to understand the amount of pressure exerted on the artery walls when blood moves through them. It's important to monitor this, because you can only be diagnosed with high blood pressure if your results are consistently high.
High blood pressure can be split into two types: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension has no identifiable cause, but secondary hypertension is caused directly by an underlying health issue or as a side effect of some medications.
Whilst primary blood pressure doesn't have a specific cause, there are many factors that can increase your risk of developing it. These include a history of hypertension in the family, eating food that's high in fat or salt, not exercising enough, being stressed, being overweight, or drinking too much.
Secondary blood pressure can be caused by health problems ranging from conditions that affect the body's tissue, such as lupus; to taking certain medications like ibuprofen; and to hormonal conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome.
Whilst hypertension doesn't cause obvious symptoms, there are a number of ways your body will respond to high blood pressure that could be considered warnings. The only way to know for certain is to have your blood pressure checked by a doctor, who will be able to diagnose you accurately.
In very rare cases, high blood pressure symptoms will include a headache, blurred or double vision, nosebleed, shortness of breath or even female sexual dysfunction. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.
High blood pressure means that your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body, which can weaken your heart over time. It's important that you strive to lower your blood pressure because leaving hypertension untreated can damage your arteries, either causing a blockage or splitting them, which is known as haemorrhaging.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause a number of health problems. The kinds of cardiovascular diseases caused by hypertension include:
Pregnant women must have their blood pressure checked regularly, even if it isn't high. This is done to prevent the risk of developing pregnancy-induced hypertension, because it can lead to pre-eclampsia, where there is a problem with the placenta.
"High blood pressure is known to affect 30% of people in the UK, although this figure could be much higher. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious complications."Dr Hilary Jones
HealthExpress Medical Advisor
If your blood pressure is slightly higher than the ideal level of 120/80mmHg, it's likely that your doctor will advise you to make simple lifestyle changes to help reduce it. If your blood pressure sits above the indicator for hypertension, which stands at 140/90mmHg, and your doctor thinks you're at risk of developing heart disease in the next ten years, you'll be prescribed medication and advised to change your lifestyle to help lower your high blood pressure.
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There are a few medications that you might be prescribed to help lower high blood pressure. Whilst these medications work in different ways they all have the same outcome, which is to relax and widen the blood vessels. This means that blood can flow more easily around the body, so the heart doesn't have to contract as hard, which lowers blood pressure.
The medications that are available and which help to lower high blood pressure include:
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