More than 14 million adults in the UK have high blood pressure – almost five million of these are thought to be undiagnosed, as there are rarely any symptoms. You may only find out you’ve got a problem when you have a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure contributes to around half of all heart attacks and strokes in the UK.
Your heart pumps blood around your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your organs. Your blood pressure is the force your heart uses to pump blood around your body through the arteries.
Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers usually shown as one on top of the other and measured in mmHg (millimetres of mercury). If your blood pressure reading is 120 / 80mmHg your doctor or nurse may refer to it as “120 over 80”.
The first (or top) number represents the highest level that your blood pressure reaches when your heart contracts and pumps blood through your arteries – known as your systolic pressure. The second (or bottom) number represents the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats – your diastolic pressure.
High blood pressure – or hypertension – means that your blood pressure is constantly higher than the recommended level.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, your blood pressure should be below 140/ 90. If you have heart and circulatory disease (such as coronary heart disease or stroke) or diabetes or kidney disease, then your blood pressure should be below 130 / 80.
High blood pressure means that your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body, so the pressure is always higher than it should be. High blood pressure is serious. If you ignore it, it can lead to heart and circulatory diseases like heart attack or stroke.
Risk factors include being overweight, having too much salt in your diet, not doing enough physical activity, drinking too much alcohol and having a family history of high blood pressure. We also know that people from an African Caribbean background and people living in deprived area may be at higher risk.
Blood pressure is often called a silent killer, as you may not have any symptoms. Symptoms that can occur include blurred vision, nosebleeds, shortness of breath and a headache that won’t go away. But even if you feel fine, have your blood pressure checked regularly.
How to reduce your blood pressure: 6 top tips
Following these tips can help to reduce high blood pressure, or help to control it if you’ve already been diagnosed with the condition.
Try to do some moderate-intensity activity every day and build up to at least 150 minutes per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
For some people, losing weight is all they need to do to get their blood pressure down to a normal level.
Use the Eatwell plate to guide the proportions you include from each food group. In particular, include a variety of fruit and vegetables.
Don’t cook with salt or add any to your food at the table, and cut down on processed foods, which contain a lot of salt.
If you drink alcohol, stick within the recommended limits. No more than 3–4 units a day for men and no more than 2–3 for women.
Most people will need to take more than one type of medicine to control their blood pressure. Don’t stop taking your medication without consulting with your GP first.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. You can find support from the people around you and healthcare professionals. Make sure you check your blood pressure regularly so you can see your progress.