7 October 2009
High blood pressure (Hypertention) is the main risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease. More than 50,000 deaths from stroke and 100,000 deaths from heart disease in the UK each year are attributable to high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force exerted by blood on the walls of the arteries when the heart beats. When measured, two readings are recorded:
Blood pressure changes throughout the day and in particular, it increases during exercise and decreases during sleep. What is considered to be an acceptable blood pressure and what is hypertension depends on several factors. A single high reading is not enough to warrant a diagnosis of hypertension as blood pressure can be raised in all of us now and then – even the sight of a doctor can be enough to put it up. So there must be at least two high readings to cause concern.
Hypertension is then diagnosed when either or both of the systolic and diastolic pressures are persistently raised above 140(systolic) / 90(diastolic) mmHg.
Having your blood pressure checked is quick, free and painless. You can have a free blood pressure test anytime throughout the year at GP surgeries, health centres, and many high street and supermarket pharmacies.
Although high blood pressure can cause headaches, dizziness and problems with vision, the majority of people suffer no symptoms at all. As a result many people with hypertension remain undiagnosed because they have no symptoms to motivate them to see a doctor or get their blood pressure checked. However, despite the lack of symptoms hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and many other medical problems which is why it is important for people to have their blood pressure checked regularly so it can be diagnosed and treated.
If your blood pressure high, it needs to be brought down to a normal level, and the aim is usually to get blood pressure down to below 140/90 mmHg.
When high blood pressure is first diagnosed, tests may be done for an underlying cause especially if the person is young or has very high blood pressure. If an underlying cause is found it should be treated.
There is no cure as such for essential hypertension, but following a healthy lifestyle can be enough to bring blood pressure down to a normal level. This is one reason why drug treatment may not be offered for healthy individuals with only mild hypertension (above 140/90 mmHg but below 160/100 mmHg).
Medication is used if lifestyle changes alone fail to lower blood pressure sufficiently. It is generally recommend that drug treatment is offered to:
Current UK guidelines also recommend that blood pressure levels need to be even lower for certain people and say treatment should aim to lower blood pressure to below 130/80 if a person has: