High blood pressure is pretty common. Around a third of adults in the UK have blood pressure levels that are persistently high, although many of these will be unaware of it. That’s because high blood pressure, or hypertension as it’s also known, rarely has symptoms that we notice.
Yet, if left untreated, it can be serious. Persistently raised blood pressure can increase our risk of many serious health conditions, including heart disease, strokes, aneurysms, kidney disease and vascular dementia.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure, and that if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, it can be treated.
You can get your blood pressure checked by a health professional at your surgery or pharmacy, or you can buy a home blood pressure monitor. The British Hypertension Society has information about validated blood pressure monitors that you can buy at bihsoc.org/bpmonitors/for-home-use/. Everyone’s blood pressure fluctuates, so remember that one high reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem. Anxiety about the test can itself raise your blood pressure!
How can high blood pressure be prevented or lowered? If you have a family history of high blood pressure, or are of African or Caribbean origin, your risk of developing it may be higher.
But these steps can help you reduce your blood pressure:
- Reducing the amount of salt in your food – by cutting down on processed food and cooking with fresh or frozen ingredients, using spices and herbs to flavour instead of salt.
- Cutting out smoking altogether.
- Taking more exercise. A brisk walk that makes you slightly breathless but not uncomfortable, taken three or four times a week, will bring benefits.
- Maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 24.9. Go to www.nhs.uk/live-well/ healthy-weight/bmi-calculator/ to check yours out.
- Keeping to the guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, with several alcohol-free days a week.
- Checking with your pharmacist which over-the-counter medicines may raise your blood pressure. Some cough and cold remedies, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and herbal remedies (especially those containing liquorice) may do so.
- Sleeping well. Long-term sleep deprivation can raise blood pressure, so try to relax with a bath or easy read before bed, avoid using mobiles and PCs before sleeping and keep your bedroom as quiet and dark as you can.
By Shalbourne Private Health Care’s Dr Tom Hyde, a highly experienced general cardiologist with a specialist interest in the prevention and management of coronary artery disease.