High blood pressure is a condition where the pressure inside the arteries is higher than it should be, and left untreated, serious complications can occur, including heart attack and stroke. Many people don’t know they have the condition because symptoms are rarely noticeable.
The best way to find our if you have a high reading is to have your blood pressure regularly checked, either by your GP or local pharmacist or using a blood pressure monitor at home.
It’s also important to understand how to prevent high blood pressure to avoid complications, and as part of this, what causes the condition.
It’s not clear exactly what causes high blood pressure, but there are nine things that can increase your risk.
The NHS lists these as:
- Age – the risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you get older
- A family history of high blood pressure
- Being of African or Caribbean origin
- A high amount of salt in your food
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight
- Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Long-term sleep deprivation
How to prevent high blood pressure
High blood pressure can often be prevented or reduced through some simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthily.
Bupa advises: “Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
“It’s also good to eat at least one portion of oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel every week.”
Eating less salt, cutting down on alcohol and drinking less coffee and other caffeinated drinks like cola are also recommended.
Being active and taking regular exercise can also lower blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good condition.
The NHS advises: “Regular exercise can also help you lose weight, which will also help lower your blood pressure.
“Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.
“Physical activity can include anything from sport to walking and gardening.”
Losing weight has also been shown to be effective at lowering blood pressure.
The health body adds: “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.”
Stopping smoking does not directly cause high blood pressure, but can put a person at much higher risk of a heart attack and stroke.
This is because smoking, like high blood pressure, causes the arteries to narrow.
So if you smoke and have high blood pressure, the arteries will narrow much more quickly.
High blood pressure symptoms
Most people with high blood pressure will show no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels.
But Mayo Clinic advises: “A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.”