HIGH blood pressure is a condition that doesn't usually have any symptoms.
Around a third of people in the UK have the condition – also known as hypertension, but many don't know they have it.
If left untreated it can increase your risk of serious issues such as strokes and heart attacks, the NHS states.
However, the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked.
The disorder puts a strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs.
During the Covid pandemic the NHS website was flooded with people searching for information on the bug.
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But in the last year, figures show that the information page for high blood pressure has had over 3.8million views.
The NHS recently introduced free blood pressure check services in community pharmacies in England.
Tesco also previously teamed up with the British Heart Foundation to offer half a million free blood pressure checks.
This service is also available at over 650 Boots pharmacies across the country, for people over the age of 40 who have previously not had a confirmed diagnosis of hypertension.
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Speaking to The Sun, Marc Donovan, Chief Pharmacist at Boots previously said the illness is particularly dangerous as it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
"There may be some lifestyle changes, such as eating healthily, taking regular exercise and stopping smoking, which can help to reduce it, but some people need to take medication as well," he added.
It is a huge problem worldwide, but has become decreasingly so in the UK, thought to be because of work to reduce salt in people’s diets.
So what is high blood pressure, how can you find out yours and what should you do if it's too high?
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body.
When your blood pressure is high, this means the heart is having to pump harder to get blood around the body, which can lead to serious problems.
Blood pressure naturally goes up and down throughout the day, but if it is consistently high, it’s a problem.
When pressure is too high it can cause the arteries to lose their stretchiness and become stiff or narrow.
This allows for fatty deposits to build up and block the arteries, which can lead to fatal consequences – including heart attack or stroke.
What is a normal blood pressure reading?
Blood pressure is measured using two different numbers:
The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
For example, if the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, “120 over 80,” or write, “120/80 mmHg.”
ln fact, the ideal blood pressure should be below 120 and over 80 (120/80).
You can request a blood pressure reading at your local GP.
Some surgeries have a machine in the waiting area and it just takes a few minutes to take a reading.
You can also ask your local pharmacy, although they may ask for a request from your GP.
Other places that may have a blood pressure reader include gyms and workplaces.
Temporary blood pressure-testing stations also pop up every September as part of Blood Pressure UK’s annual awareness-raising campaign.
Healthy adults aged over 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years, the NHS says.
But this should be once a year if you have risk factors (described below).
People in England aged between 40 and 74 will also be offered a reading as part of their NHS Health Check.
Blood pressure is measured with an instrument called a sphygmomanometer.
A cuff is placed around your arm and inflated with a pump until the circulation is cut off.
Afterwards a small valve slowly deflates the cuff, giving the doctor or machine a chance to measure the blood pressure.
What are the risks if it is too high or too low?
Research from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) shows that as many as five million Brits could be living with undiagnosed high blood pressure.
The NHS estimates that over the next five years, blood pressure checks at local pharmacies could prevent over 5,000 heart attacks, over 8,000 strokes and save over 4,000 lives.
Just 30 per cent of men and women attended a routine medical check at least once last year, with over one in three saying they haven't had their reading checked in the last 12 months.
If your blood pressure is too high it puts extra strain on your arteries (and your heart) and this may lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Other problems related to high blood pressure are heart disease, kidney disease, vascular dementia, peripheral artery disease and erectile dysfunction.
For the most part, the lower your blood pressure the better.
However, low blood pressure can also lead to worrying symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, fainting and dehydration.
High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of death, despite being both largely preventable and treatable.
What are the symptoms of hypertension?
High blood pressure usually doesn’t have any symptoms so it’s important to get checked regularly.
Some symptoms can include severe headaches, fatigue or confusion, vision problems and chest pains.
Sufferers of high blood pressure could also experience difficulty breathing, an irregular heartbeat, blood in the urine and pounding in the chest, neck, or ears.
If you feel any of these symptoms, it's best to get it checked with your GP.
What causes hypertension and how can can you reduce it?
Doctors may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason why high blood pressure occurred because there may be many risk factors present.
Some people are more likely to get high blood pressure due to having “risk factors”.
Risk factors that are unchangeable include:
- Age – if you are over 65
- Family medical history – if have a relative with high blood pressure
- Ethnicity – if you are of black African or black Caribbean descent
- Socioeconomic status – if you live in a deprived area
Many risk factors, however, can be challenged.
Making lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of getting high blood pressure, even if the odds are against you because you are over 65, for example.
"Most people develop high blood pressure because of their diet, lifestyle or medical condition”, the British Heart Foundation says.
Being overweight forces your heart to work harder to pump blood around your body, which can raise your blood pressure.
If you do need to lose some weight, it's worth remembering that just losing a few pounds will make a big difference to your blood pressure and overall health, the NHS says.
A bad diet and lack of exercise
If you don’t eat healthily, you could be putting yourself at risk of hypertension.
Too much salt is a particular problem because the more you eat, the higher your blood prssure will be.
Focus on a diet low in saturated fat, salt and sugar, while focusing on fibre, wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Exercising helps to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy while also keeping weight at a stable level.
Drinking too much alcohol or coffee
Regularly drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure over time, the NHS says.
And keep in mind that alcohol contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain — a risk factor for high blood pressure.
The UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines advise that people should not regularly drink more than more than 14 units a week to keep health risks from alcohol low.
Caffeine should also be kept to a safe level – any more than four cups of a coffee a day could lead to hypertension, the NHS says.
Coffee and tea lovers are warned they should keep an eye on caffeine from other sources, such as energy drinks.
Smoking causes the walls of the arteries to get sticky as well as narrow.
It prevents blood from flowing as properly which could lead to heart attack or stroke.
While it is not a direct cause of high blood pressure, it can cause an instant rise to pressure, heart rate and reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to the body’s cells. It is known to be dangerous to the circulatory system.
Not getting much sleep
A regular lack of sleep may lead to high blood pressure, studies have found.
It's thought that sleep helps your body control hormones needed to regulate stress and metabolism, the Mayo Clinic says.
Over time, a lack of sleep could cause swings in hormones, leading to high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.
When you sleep, blood pressure goes down. Having sleep problems means your blood pressure stays higher for a longer period of time.
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