Blood pressure is a silent killer that can cause a stroke or heart attack, without any warning. High blood pressure hardly ever has symptoms that you might notice, and more than a quarter of people in the UK have blood pressure that is high enough to cause problems if it is left untreated. Let’s look at what it is, and how you can control or treat it, with and without medication.
How can I tell if I have high blood pressure?
First, it’s essential to measure your blood pressure. You don’t have to go to the doctor to do this – most pharmacies will do it for you, and many GP surgeries have a testing machine you can go in and use without a doctor’s appointment.
Blood pressure is measured by looking at two numbers. The first is the force your heart is having to use to pump your blood. If this number is over 140, your pressure is too high. The second measurement looks at how much resistance there is to the blood, from your blood vessels. If this number is above 90, your blood pressure is too high.
The numbers are usually quoted like this: 140/90. A healthy blood pressure is between 90/60 and 120/80. Obviously, there’s a zone between 120/80 and 140/90 where you could bring the pressure down by taking some steps towards a healthier lifestyle.
As well as stroke and heart attack, blood pressure that is too high can lead to a wide range of diseases, including kidney disease and dementia.
What can you do to help yourself?
The good news is – quite a lot, especially if your blood pressure isn’t yet very high, but is trending that way. If you are overweight, you need to tackle the excess weight. A good start is to try and eat more healthily while at the same time taking regular exercise. Walking is free, and once you start, you’ll find you soon build up stamina.
Doctors now realize that getting a good sleep matters when it comes to our overall health, and it can help blood pressure specifically. Alcohol and caffeine both affect blood pressure independently, and then both also influence the quality of your sleep – alcohol is also full of calories, so that’s three reasons to cut it down or avoid it altogether if you’re trying to lower your blood pressure. And as for smoking – giving up is probably the most important thing anyone can do to lower their blood pressure if it is high.
There are some things though that you just can’t do anything about. If you have a relative who has a blood pressure problem or are of Caribbean or African descent, you will have a tendency towards blood pressure issues. All the more reason to get checked regularly, and be careful about weight and other risk factors.
With the best will in the world, blood pressure can’t always be controlled by lifestyle changes. There is a broad range of drugs that will help to lower your blood pressure. The one that your doctor prescribes for you will depend on many factors, such as your age and how high your blood pressure is. Consult your doctor if you feel you may be dealing with high blood pressure and they will be able to advise you further.