Reducing the Risk of Hypertension

05 June 2020

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is an incredibly common condition that approximately one-third of all adults in the UK have. Yet it could be a condition they are not even aware they have.

So, if it’s so common yet so easy to not be aware of, what do you need to be aware of? We'll begin with the basics...

What is blood pressure? 

Blood pressure is, literally, the pressure of the blood in your arteries. As the heart contracts and relaxes the pressure it creates is what pushes the blood around your body.

Naturally, blood pressure is not fixed. Throughout the day your blood pressure will change. For instance, when you are exercising your blood pressure will increase as your BPM increases and, likewise, when you sleep your blood pressure will be at its lowest.

Your blood pressure is calculated by two separate readings: your systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic is the pressure generated in your arteries upon the contraction of your heart. This is the highest number. Diastolic is the pressure created when your heart relaxes - it’s the pressure between beats. The is the lowest level of your blood pressure. We’ll cover the boundaries of blood pressure readings below.

The problems concerning blood pressure arise when it is consistently high, regardless of what you are doing. This means that your heart is continually having to work harder than it should in order to shuttle blood around your body. Whilst it might not, at first glance, seem or feel like a problem, hypertension can lead to a variety of considerably more harmful consequences including strokes and heart attacks.

How Do I Know If My Blood Pressure Is High? 

Image of a red valve dial

You might be familiar with blood pressure readings. They are read as ‘number over number’ or systolic over diastolic. For example, 140/90 mmHg. This is the top end of what is considered to be healthy blood pressure. However, healthy blood pressure falls within a range, just as high and low (hypotension) blood pressure does.

FAQ: What is ideal blood pressure?
Ideal blood pressure is typically considered to be between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80 mmHg. 

For your blood pressure to be considered low, your systolic reading will be lower than 90 mmHg and your diastolic reading lower than 60 mmHg. Normal, or ‘healthy’, blood pressure has a systolic reading of between 90 and 140 mmHG and a diastolic reading of between 60 and 90 mmHg.

Readings higher than this can indicate high blood pressure: marginally higher would suggest ‘possible hypertension’ whilst significantly higher would be indicative of ‘severe hypertension’.

Possible hypertension has a systolic reading of between 140 and 180 mmHg and a diastolic reading of 90-110 mmHg. Severe hypertension would have a systolic reading of higher than 180 mmHg and a diastolic reading of higher than 110 mmHg.

What Are The Causes of High Blood Pressure?

Whilst it can sometimes be difficult to categorically attribute high blood pressure to a specific cause, the majority of people who suffer from high blood pressure can link it to 1, or more, of the following causes:

  • Poor diet Lack of exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Too much alcohol
  • Too much caffeine
  • Too much salt

The good news is that every one of the above causes can be reversed!

However, sometimes high blood pressure could simply be hereditary, made worse by age or a result of genetics (it is more common in those of black African or black Caribbean descent). Yet, even in these instances, changes in diet and exercise habits can have a positive impact on your blood pressure.

Secondary Hypertension

There is a small percentage of people who have high blood pressure for whom it is more easy to specify the absolute cause. These causes include:

  • Diabetes
  • Excessive hormone secretion
  • Kidney disease
  • Some medication (including oral contraceptives and a variety of over-the-counter and herbal medicines).

Hypertension resulting from these causes is often referred to as ‘secondary hypertension’.

What Are The Consequences of High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure can result in a number of undesirable outcomes, many of which can impact your life considerably, as well as lead to death. These consequences include:

  • Aortic aneurysms
  • Heart attacks disease failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Strokes
  • Vascular dementia

How Can I Recognise The Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?

Helpfully, high blood pressure is something that can be recognised quite easily once you are aware of the kind of symptoms associated with it. Some of the symptoms that you can pay attention to include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath

It is, however, important to note that high blood pressure may not present symptoms that are so clear to observe. The best and most effective way to understand your blood pressure is to test it.

How Can I Reduce The Risk of Getting High Blood Pressure?

Image of two women doing exercise on a pier

Natural Remedies

One of the major causes of hypertension is the build up of atheroma inside the arteries. Atheroma is the fatty deposits lining the walls of the arteries, simultaneously narrowing the space through which the blood can travel and robbing those arteries of their natural elasticity.

This build up is largely a result of poor diet and a lack of exercise. Already being overweight will increase the likelihood of these build ups but if you can develop healthy eating and exercise habits, they will, over time, begin to break down and reduce.

Diet and exercise are just two of a number of effective measures you can choose to implement that will contribute to a healthy blood pressure. In general, effective natural remedies include:

  • Losing weight
  • Exercising
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Relaxing/ reducing stress

To help develop a more relaxed state of mind and to alleviate the stress you might feel, you can explore the following:

  • Meditation
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Rewiring stress triggers
  • Understanding what is, and isn’t, in your control
  • Reviewing your expectations

Medicated Remedies

A simple image of white pills on a blue background

Of course, there are also pharmaceutical options available to help lower blood pressure. These will only ever be prescribed by a doctor and will be dependent upon age, ethnicity and how high your blood pressure is.

The most common medicine types include:

  • ACE inhibitors - these widen your blood vessels, helping to raise blood flow
  • Alpha-blockers (Doxazocin) - help keep the smaller blood vessels relaxed
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) - helps to restrict the contraction of blood vessels
  • Beta-blockers - these help to slow your heart beat
  • Calcium-channel blockers - these slow the rate at which calcium enters muscle cells and therefore slows down how fast those muscles can then contract
  • Diuretics - increases the amount of urine you produce, thereby helping the body rid itself of excess water and salts and, ultimately, helps lower the volume of your blood

With that all in mind, what's next?

Getting Your Blood Pressure Tested

A woman having her blood pressure tested

Having a blood pressure test is an easy, painless and quick procedure that you can have done at a variety of places including:

  • GP surgeries
  • some pharmacies
  • some workplaces

In the UK it is advised that anyone over the age of 40 has their blood pressure checked at least every 5 years, although it is excellent practice to have it reviewed far more regularly. It’s common for GP’s to communicate directly with their patients about this, but making your own appointment proactively is simple enough.

For many people, knowing their blood pressure is a small, but significant, part of their toolkit to help them understand their health. Knowing it will help you to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

Can I Test My Blood Pressure Myself?

Yes. There are many consumer-level blood pressure monitors that you can easily purchase and then carry out the test at home.

Fun fact: a blood pressure monitor is called ‘sphygmomanometer

A blood pressure test, whether carried out by a professional or yourself, simply involves wrapping a strap around your upper arm, pumping air into it and reviewing the reading that is recorded. Most commercial sphygmomanometers are electric so you only need to place the strap around your arm and press a button.

In fact, it is common for people to feel stressed enough in clinical settings (such as the doctor’s surgery) that their blood pressure is higher than usual and so does not reflect an accurate reading that the patient would exhibit in any other scenario. This is known as white coat hypertension, or white coat syndrome.

Therefore home testing could allow you to see a more realistic reading of your blood pressure and give you a fair indication as to whether you need to then consult with your GP.

Tip for home testers: make sure your sphygmomanometer is validated. You can find out if yours is here.

Adopt A Healthier Lifestyle For Healthier Blood Pressure 

A chopping covered with a variety of fruits

In many instances, blood pressure is controllable through a considered approach to lifestyle. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the primary areas in which you can quickly affect your blood pressure without the need for medications. Consistency in both should reduce the likelihood of high blood pressure considerably.

Of course, as we’ve seen, these are not the only contributing factors to healthy blood pressure but, in all instances, a healthy diet and a good exercise routine will serve you well in all aspects of your life.

If you have noticed any of the above symptoms, or simply haven’t had your blood pressure tested in some time, it would be beneficial for you to arrange to have it done and to discuss any concerns you may have with your GP. 

MedicAlert is a community of members, all of whom live with a wide range of health-related issues ranging from hypertension and cancer to rare conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. We support all of our members, no matter what, through providing 24/7 emergency access to their medical records in emergencies, ensuring the most efficient, reliable and accessible route for medical professionals in times of need.



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