High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure or hypertension refers to abnormally elevated blood pressure. It is sometimes labeled a “silent killer” as it rarely shows alarming signs and symptoms, but damages your organs progressively. In England, 30% people suffer from high blood pressure and many of them are unaware of any problem. If you are not sure about your blood pressure reading, ask your GP. The patients with hypertension are at high risk of heart attack or stroke if left untreated. Therefore, everybody should get their blood pressure checked at least every five years.

Some people have high blood pressure readings only in hospital or GP surgery due to stress and anxiety and their blood pressure taken at home is perfectly within limits; this is called 'white-coat hypertension' even if not many doctors wear white coats nowadays! The gold standard diagnostic measure is therefore 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that blood applies against the vessel walls as the blood is pumped out to different parts of the body. If blood pressure is too high it applies extra strain on the heart and blood vessels which increases risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and many other conditions. Blood pressure measurements are given as two figures: systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure indicates the pressure taken at the point when the heart contracts to pump the blood into the arteries and diastolic blood pressure refers to the measurement when the heart relaxes. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). When you hear from your doctor that your blood pressure is e.g. 130/80 mmHg, it means your systolic blood pressure is 130 mmHg and the diastolic reading is 80 mmHg. High blood pressure refers to the reading 140/90 mmHg or above.

Who is at high risk of hypertension?

The risk of high blood pressure increases with the advancing age. High blood pressure is also associated with obesity, smoking, stress, African or Caribbean descent, family history of hypertension, diet high in salt, lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet, lack of physical activity, drinking too much coffee and alcohol and diabetes mellitus. If you have one or more of the above conditions, try to modify your lifestyle to prevent the development of high blood pressure. You should also get your blood pressure checked more often than the standard 5 year interval.

Prevention and treatment

There are many things you can do to prevent the onset of high blood pressure:

  • Lose some weight if you are obese
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce alcohol intake if you drink above the recommended limits
  • Avoid drinking too much coffee
  • Eat healthy diet including fruits and vegetables
  • Cut down salt in your diet
  • Control your sugar level at an optimum level if you are diabetic

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, your GP or consultant will advise you to modify your lifestyle and to take some medicines if necessary. The most common antihypertensives are ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics