High Blood Pressure FAQs
The ten most frequently asked questions about high blood pressure
- 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?
If you have a high blood pressure, your heart has to work extra hard to pump the blood around your body. This affects a third of European adults and is also called hypertension. High blood pressure means your heart has to contract harder to circulate blood through the body, which can split blood vessels, damage organs and cause heart attacks and strokes.
Blood pressure measures 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 blood pressure is also measured between beats, when the heart relaxes, and is called diastolic pressure.
When your blood pressure is measured, it’s presented as two numbers. The first number relates to systolic pressure and the second number is the diastolic pressure. If you have a high blood pressure, it will measure on or above 140/90mmHg.
A usual blood pressure reading will be 120/80mmHg or under. If your blood pressure begins to creep past this measurement, you should take steps to lower it. When your blood pressure reaches 140/90mmHg or above, you’ll be classified as hypertensive.
The threshold for people with diabetes or chronic kidney disease is a little lower; 130/80mmHg is classified as high if you have these conditions.
It’s important to understand that it’s your systolic pressure that is used to diagnose high blood pressure. If your blood pressure was 160/80mmHg you’d be classed as hypertensive, even though your diastolic pressure is healthy.
High blood pressure is known to be a risk factor for heart disease, a stroke, kidney disease and dementia. This means that if you have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to develop these conditions.
High blood pressure puts a dangerous strain on your vessels, which have tightened. Over time this can cause your blood vessels to clog up or weaken, which can result in the narrowing of blood vessels or blood clots.
This can also cause an aneurysm, when the vessels bulge because they’re under such strain. An aneurysm is known as a ‘silent killer’, because it’s often symptom-free but can still cause the vessels to burst, known as a haemorrhage. A haemorrhage is so painful that people usually only realise they’ve had an aneurysm when it bursts. Haemorrhaging can cause internal bleeding which can lead to permanent disability or death, depending on where it’s located.
High blood pressure is also known to cause heart failure, kidney failure and some eye conditions.
Perhaps the scariest thing about high blood pressure is that it usually doesn’t cause obvious symptoms. This is why it’s called a ‘silent killer’; people often only know they have high blood pressure when they suffer a from stroke, a heart attack or haemorrhaging.
The only way to tell if you’re hypertensive is to be tested by your doctor.
The Blood Pressure Association advises that you get your blood pressure checked once a year. If your blood pressure is above the normal rate of 120/80mmHg, it should be monitored more often.
You can get your blood pressure checked at a doctor’s surgery, health centre, high street pharmacy, gym or fitness centre.
Primary hypertension doesn’t have a single identifiable cause, but can be affected by certain lifestyle choices or genetics. Eating food with a high fat or salt content, being stressed, not exercising enough, being overweight or drinking too much are all factors that are known to contribute to high blood pressure.
Secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying medical issue, or as a side effect of using certain medication. Conditions that affect the body’s tissue, such as lupus, as well as hormonal conditions like Cushing’s syndrome and taking ibuprofen can lead to secondary hypertension.
Once you’ve established if you have primary or secondary blood pressure, you’ll be able to treat your high blood pressure. Improvements to your lifestyle can alleviate primary hypertension, such as eating a healthier diet, exercising more or eating less salt. Potentially changing your medication can treat secondary hypertension.
There is a range of medications that can help lower high blood pressure, whether it’s classed as primary or secondary. To learn about the best options you can read out treatments page or complete a consultation with one of our registered doctors who will be able to give you a tailored diagnosis and recommend treatment.
Anyone can develop high blood pressure, although some people are more susceptible to it than others. The factors that increase the risk of developing hypertension include:
- A history of high blood pressure, a stroke or a heart attack in the family
- Existing diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease
- An unhealthy lifestyle, for example being overweight, eating too much salt or being inactive
- Being older: the risk increases as we age, with over half of people aged 60 and above classed as hypertensive
Yes one in three adults suffer from high blood pressure. A worrying 18% of men and 13% of women don’t receive treatment, despite being hypertensive.
High blood pressure is common in older people; 60% of men develop high blood pressure when they are over 60. Despite having a significantly lower risk of developing high blood pressure when they’re young, women are also much more likely to become hypertensive as they age and have a similar rate of high blood pressure as men when they reach 60 and above.