High blood pressure (hypertension)
High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for heart attack and stroke. It’s very common. Around one in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure, but many do not know it.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is when the pressure of blood in your arteries is consistently too high. This means your heart has to work harder over time to pump blood around your body. It also puts a strain on other organs, including your brain and kidneys.
If left untreated, high blood pressure significantly increases your risk for a range of serious diseases and conditions, including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and vascular dementia.
What is considered high blood pressure?
It only takes a minute to check your blood pressure using a blood pressure monitor. You may need to take a couple of readings and at different times of the day to get an average.
The monitor measures the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries at two points:
- The higher number (systolic blood pressure), records the pressure when your heart muscle contracts and forces blood through the arteries.
- The lower number (diastolic blood pressure), records the pressure when your heart relaxes between beats and how much resistance there is to blood flow.
These readings are in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). As a guide:
- Ideal blood pressure is around 120/80mmHg.
- Anything above 140/90mmHg is considered high blood pressure.
- Anything above 180/110mmHg is considered dangerously high.
Causes of high blood pressure
We don’t know exactly what causes high blood pressure. However, we do know that lifestyle plays a big role. You are more likely to develop high blood pressure if you:
- are physically inactive.
- are overweight.
- drink more than the recommended limits for alcohol.
- have a lot of salt in your diet.
- do not eat enough vegetables and fruit.
- experience high levels of anxiety or stress.
- do not get enough sleep.
Your age, family history and ethnic background also play a role. You are more likely to have high blood pressure if you:
- are over 65 – your risk increases as you get older.
- are of black African or black Caribbean descent.
- have a close family member with high blood pressure.
Sometimes, high blood pressure is caused by an underlying medical issue, such as kidney disease, diabetes or pregnancy.
Treatments for high blood pressure
Your doctor can help you reduce your high blood pressure. Depending on your age, overall health and how high your blood pressure is, they may recommend:
- medicines that can lower your blood pressure.
- healthy changes to your lifestyle.
Common blood pressure medicines include:
- ACE inhibitors.
- angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs).
- calcium channel blockers.
- beta blockers.
- alpha blockers.
You can help reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure – or reduce your blood pressure if it is already high – by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. These include:
- losing weight, if you are overweight.
- eating less salt.
- eating more vegetables and fruit.
- drinking less alcohol.
- being more active.
- stopping smoking.