Blood pressure

blood pressure

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood in your arteries. The higher your blood pressure the greater your risk of developing narrowed arteries which can lead to heart problems, kidney disease and strokes. The good news is that if your blood pressure is high, it can be lowered by making changes to your lifestyle, for example changing your diet, exercising and losing weight, and when needed, with tablets. This will reduce your risk of developing heart and brain problems that might otherwise occur if your blood pressure is not treated.

Your heart pumps blood around your body through a network of tubing called arteries. Every time your heart pumps it forces blood through these arteries and into smaller blood vessels called capillaries. The force that your heart produces in your arteries when it pumps is called your blood pressure. When the heart contracts and forces blood through the arteries your blood pressure goes up, when the heart relaxes it goes down.

Why is blood pressure important?

High blood pressure can also be called hypertension; both words mean the same thing. If you have a blood pressure measurement that is consistently more than 140/90mmHg then you have high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and dementia. This means that if you have high blood pressure you are at greater risk of developing these conditions than someone who does not have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high it causes strain on the vessels carrying blood around your body. This strain can cause vessels to become clogged up or to weaken, and this in turn can lead to narrow blood vessels and clots which can cause damage to the heart or brain. More rarely, it can lead to the blood vessels bursting.

Having high blood pressure can also cause heart failure. Heart failure is when your heart cannot pump blood around the body as well as it should, and this can cause you to become short of breath and can cause your ankles to swell. High blood pressure can cause kidney failure, some eye conditions, and there is some research that shows that by lowering blood pressure you may be able to prevent some kinds of dementia.

Whether you have high blood pressure, or normal blood pressure, it is important to realise that the higher your blood pressure, whatever it is, the higher your risk of heart disease or stroke. This means that all of us should be adopting a lifestyle that will help to lower our blood pressure whether we have high blood pressure or not. For all of us, leading a healthy lifestyle means taking regular exercise, eating a diet low in fat and salt and high in fruit and vegetables, being the right weight for our height, drinking sensibly and not smoking.

What causes high blood pressure?

A small number of people have what is called secondary hypertension, which means that there is an underlying cause of their high blood pressure. For example, some people develop high blood pressure if they have problems with their kidneys or adrenal glands (which sit above your kidneys). These glands produce hormones that are important in controlling blood pressure. However, for most people there is no definite cause for their high blood pressure and doctors call this essential hypertension. The small blood vessels in the body narrow and this causes the pressure to build up, a bit like squeezing a garden hose.

How common is high blood pressure?
In the UK there are about 16 million people with a blood pressure higher than 140/90mmHg. One in every three adults now have high blood pressure, with larger numbers affected in older age groups.

Who gets high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can affect anyone. However there are some groups of people who are more likely to have it. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack you are more likely to have high blood pressure yourself. Some other conditions are also linked to high blood pressure, such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease. If you have any of these conditions then it is even more important that your blood pressure is identified and well controlled.

Your lifestyle can also affect your blood pressure. If you are overweight, eat too much salt and not enough fruits and vegetables, are physically inactive and drink too much alcohol you are more likely to have high blood pressure. Blood pressure also goes up as we get older. At least half of all people over the age of 75 have high blood pressure Whereas you cannot change your genes, or the fact that you will grow older, you can change your lifestyle. Changing your diet and exercising more will lower your blood pressure.

How do I know if I've got high blood pressure?

High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms which is why many people do not know that they have it. For this reason high blood pressure is sometimes called the 'silent killer'. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure or not is to have it measured. This is why it is important for you to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Think of it as part of an MOT for your body, and a number that you should know in the same way that you would know how much you weigh or how tall you are.

How you can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure?

There are a number of key steps you can take to help keep your blood pressure down:

  • 1. Know your numbers (get your blood pressure checked regularly)
  • 2. Eat less salt (no more than 6g a day)
  • 3. Eat more fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day)
  • 4. Be as active a you can (aim for 30 minutes five times a week)
  • 5. Drink alcohol in moderation
  • 6. Keep to a healthy weight (lose weight if you have to).

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