What is high blood pressure and what is a normal reading?

HIGH blood pressure is common in the UK, with around a third of adults having the condition.

It can be dangerous, putting a strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, the NHS says.

 High blood pressure is common in the UK and many adults may not realise that they have it

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High blood pressure is common in the UK and many adults may not realise that they have itCredit: Getty – Contributor

The health service says that around a third of adults have it – with many more living with the illness unknowingly.

It’s also known as  hypertension, and if left untreated, the illness can lead to serious complications.

Data from the NHS recently revealed that Brits are more concerned about their blood pressure than before.

During the Covid pandemic the NHS website was flooded with people searching for information on the bug.

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.

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.

If your blood pressure is too high it can put a strain on your heart, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

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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?

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 all sorts of 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 material from diet to block the arteries, which can lead to fatal consequences.

What is a normal blood pressure reading?

Blood pressure is measured by force at which your heart pumps blood around your body, and the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.

It’s given as two numbers, the first of which is systolic, and the second of which is diastolic.

The ideal blood pressure should be below 120 and over 80 (120/80).

Most UK adults have blood pressure in the range 120 over 80 (120/80) to 140 over 90 (140/90).

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?

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 don’t typically have many obvious symptoms. 

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?

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

But many causes of blood pressure are changeable.

You can take steps to lower your blood pressure by losing weight, which is helped by increasing exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Doctors also recommend reducing alcohol intake and cutting out smoking.

Reducing the sodium (salt) in your diet is also a good step to reducing blood pressure, so make sure you read the labels on food.

Salt is highest in foods including bacon, salami, ham, cheese, olives, pickles, salted nuts, gravy granules, soy sauce and prawns.

It is also hidden in packaged foods, from sandwiches to soups and ready meals.

Adults should try and limit salt to 6g a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s around one teaspoon.

When trying to manage your condition on a day to day basis, Marc says you should try and eat a low-fat diet that includes lots of fibre and plenty of fruit and vegetables, aiming to eat five portions of a day.

“It’s important to make sure that your daily intake of salt is less than six grams a day, which is about a teaspoonful, as this is a known cause of high blood pressure,” he says.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure over time.

Marc says staying within the recommended intake levels reduces the risk of developing the illness.

The NHS states that men and women are not advised to drink more than 14 units per week.

One unit of alcohol will depend on the strength of the drink.

For a pint of beer that is four per cent, this would be 2.3 units and a single sprit, such as gin or vodka would be one unit.

If you can’t reduce it by natural methods, your doctor can then prescribe you medication for high blood pressure.

How you can reduce your blood pressure

Weight

If you 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.

Diet

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.

A diet high in salt (or sodium) can cause raised blood pressure.

Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s around one teaspoon, the NHS says.

Exercising helps to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy while also keeping weight at a stable level.

Alcohol and caffeine

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

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.

The NHS has free resources to help you quit smoking.

Medications

In about one in 20 cases, high blood pressure happens as the result of an underlying health condition or taking a certain medicine, the NHS says.

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