What is hypertension? Understanding the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure

January 19th, 2018 by Johanna Denham-Harding


Hypertension and its symptoms

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is really common. In the UK, it affects about one in four adults. About half of people older than 60 have hypertension.

But because hypertension doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, many people do not even know they have it.

This is a problem because hypertension can put a strain on your blood vessels as the blood flows around your body. At least half of heart attacks and strokes are linked to high blood pressure. Hypertension also increases your chances of getting kidney damage and dementia.

Fortunately, you can do a lot to protect your health by getting your blood pressure checked and under control.

What is hypertension?


Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.

Each time your heart pumps, it forces blood through your arteries (the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to other parts of your body).

When your blood pressure is measured, the result shows how hard your blood is pressing against the walls of your arteries. The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart is working to pump your blood.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). This is the stuff you might see going up and down in the blood pressure monitor at your GP surgery.

Did you know that a blood pressure monitor is actually called a sphygmomanometer (derived from the Greek word “sphygmos” or “pulse” and the French word “manometer” or “pressure meter”).

Your blood pressure reading has two numbers:

A blood pressure result is given with both of these numbers. The systolic pressure comes first and it’s higher than the diastolic. So if your systolic is 120 and your diastolic is 90, your doctor or nurse will tell you that your blood pressure is “120 over 90”. So it would be written as 120/90 mmHg.

Hypertension is usually confirmed through blood pressure readings taken by a health professional, followed up by readings you take at home. Your doctor or nurse will advise you how to take blood pressure readings at home readings.

Hypertension is diagnosed if your blood pressure in the surgery is 140/90 mmHg or higher, and your home readings are 135/85 mmHg or higher.

What causes hypertension?


Most of the time, we don’t know what causes hypertension. But we do know what increases your risk. There are some risks you can’t change (these risks are also known as non-modifiable risks):

The following list of medications can also raise your blood pressure:

If you ever have questions about how your medication might affect your blood pressure, you can always talk to your doctor or local pharmacist. Or if you use the Echo app you can just send an instant message to our team of pharmacists.

Your lifestyle can have a big effect on your blood pressure, but the good news you can change your lifestyle to reduce your risk of hypertension. The types of risk factors that you can change are known as modifiable risks.

Being overweight or obese, not exercising, eating too much salt and smoking can increase your blood pressure. So can drinking too much alcohol, taking recreational drugs, and not getting enough sleep for long periods.

Health risks associated with hypertension


Hypertension can affect your heart, brain and many other parts of your body. It increases your risk of having the following health conditions:

The good news is, lowering your blood pressure, even a bit, can lower your risk for many of these health problems.

What are the symptoms of hypertension?


Most of the time, hypertension does not have any symptoms. You may feel fine, even if your blood pressure is high.

The only way to know whether or not you have hypertension is to have your blood pressure checked by a health professional. This check is quick and easy to do in your GP surgery or pharmacy. Sometimes, blood pressure checks are offered as a special event in local places like in your library or community centre.

By the time it causes symptoms, hypertension has reached a very high level and it is an emergency. However, it’s rare that high-blood pressure reaches this very high level. If it does, symptoms can include:

If this happens, call 111 or 999 to get help. They will then advise if you should get the person to A&E so a doctor can check them out, confirm the cause and start urgent treatment.

How can I reduce my risk of hypertension?


Your doctor might recommend medication to get your blood pressure down. To get the benefits of prescribed medication, it’s important to keep taking it as directed, even if you feel fine. Using the Echo app can help you keep track of your medications and can even remind you when to take them.

If side effects are a problem, talk to your doctor because they can probably help by adjusting your medication.

It’s also just as important to follow a healthy lifestyle in order to manage or prevent hypertension. Try to take the following steps:

It’s not always easy to make lifestyle changes at first, but over time you’ll feel the benefits. These changes will help manage your blood pressure and you’ll also have more energy, confidence and a better sense of overall well being.

Clinically reviewed by Alistair Murray MRPharmS: 18/1/18

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