Max Pemberton

Common medical conditions explained: high blood pressure

Common medical conditions explained: high blood pressure
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The condition

High blood pressure is also called ‘hypertension’. Blood pressure is recorded in two numbers – the high number is called systolic and this is the pressure when the heart has just pumped. The low number is called diastolic and this is the pressure when the heart is at rest. The pressure is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ or mmHg. Ideal blood pressure is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. High blood pressure is considered to be anything above 140/90mmHg. The problem with high blood pressure is that although in the long term it can be deadly, there are often no symptoms at all, so people can have it for years without realising. The only way to know for sure if you have high blood pressure is by getting it checked by your doctor or nurse, using a sphygmomanometer which is an inflatable arm band that is pumped up then slowly released.

What is it?

The blood pressure changes depending on our activity. This is normal. High blood pressure is when the pressure in the blood vessels is too high over a long period of time, even when the person is resting. This extra pressure puts strain on your heart and blood vessels. Over time, this can cause damage. It increases the risk of blood clots forming which can result in heart attack or stroke. It can also contribute to changes in the blood flow to the brain, which causes vascular dementia. It also causes damage to the delicate blood vessels in organs such as the eye or kidney. Over time, this damage can lead to kidney failure or bleeds into the eye, which cause blindness.

What causes it?

There are no clear causes but we know that certain factors play a role. There is an element of it being inherited with it running in families. However, lifestyle factors play a bit role. Being overweight or obese, having high salt intake, not exercising and smoking are the main risk factors. People who are from African or Caribbean descent are also at increased risk. In about 1 in 20 cases, high bloods pressure is because of another underlying disease, such as kidney disease or diabetes. Some medications can also cause high blood pressure, such as the oral contraceptive pill, steroids, and some painkillers such as ibuprofen

How is it treated?

High blood pressure can be improved by making lifestyle changes like stopping smoking or losing weight. However, if this fails to bring the blood pressure down into safe range, people will require life-long medication. There are many types that can be prescribed and the exact one prescribed depends on someone’s age and how high the blood pressure is. Sometimes people will require more than one type of medication.

What can the patient do?

Losing weight, stopping smoking, eating more fruit and vegetables and reducing fat and salt intake, reducing caffeine intake and taking up regular exercise have all been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure.