High blood pressure - also known as hypertension - is the second-highest risk factor for premature death and disability in the UK, according to a report from Public Health England.
What's more, it's estimated that high blood pressure will affect as many as 1 in 4 of us throughout our lifetimes. Such statistics highlight the sheer prevalence of the condition, and also underpin the need for more widespread public awareness of hypertension.
If you find the prospect of managing your high blood pressure medication a bit daunting, or you just want to learn more about what to do if you do receive a diagnosis for high blood pressure, this guide explains what to expect after being diagnosed with hypertension.
What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?
Perhaps you already have a general idea of what high blood pressure is and what causes it, but here’s a quick recap of the processes that actually occur in your body when you have hypertension.
High blood pressure is a condition that involves your heart pumping blood around your body with more force than is typically healthy. In basic terms, your blood pushes against the walls of your blood vessels with more power than it should, causing the pressure in your arteries to rise.
Echo’s Clinical Director, Alistair Murray, has a useful analogy to help explain hypertension:
“A good way of understanding the process is to imagine you’re pumping air into a bike tyre. If you pump too much air into the tyre, it will grow weak over time and will be more prone to bursting. In the same way, if your heart pumps your blood around your body with too much force, it will put a strain on your arteries and the very thin blood vessels found in places like your eyes and kidneys.”
Just like a bike tyre, your blood vessels will be more susceptible to damage and potential bursting over time if the pressure within them is not brought down.
Can I reverse my high blood pressure?
When it comes to hypertension, the question is not so much "can I reverse my high blood pressure?" as "can I reduce my high blood pressure?".
The British Heart Foundation has acknowledged that "there isn’t always an explanation for the cause of high blood pressure". And without a definitive cause being identified, hypertension and its underlying cause(s) effectively can’t be cured. But there are measures in place for reducing your high blood pressure.
NHS web pages discussing high blood pressure have a list of suggested changes you should make to your lifestyle if you want to reduce your blood pressure. The NHS list advises reducing your salt intake, drinking less alcohol, cutting down on caffeine products, giving up smoking, exercising more, and improving your quality of sleep as ways to improve your chances of reducing high blood pressure.
Are there any triggers for my condition?
Stress is a significant trigger for elevated blood pressure.
Imagine you’re sat at home watching a nerve-wracking Champions League knockout game (if you're a football fan, that is).
The game is deep into injury time and evenly poised at 1-1, and the team you support has just conceded a penalty.
Before the opposition player places the ball on the penalty spot, you can actually feel yourself getting more light-headed and feel your heart pounding away in your chest. This feeling means your blood pressure has risen to a point where your brain is struggling to get enough oxygen.
Of course, we're not saying that once you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure you can’t watch the football, or the tennis, or even the fire-juggling act on Britain's Got Talent that seemingly has a death wish. Instead, learning to identify and recognise stress-based triggers can help you prevent your condition from exacerbating.
Stress becomes dangerous when it persists over long periods of time without any form of release. Experiencing high-level pressure from a stressful job you don't enjoy, for example, will cause you to suffer from prolonged types of stress. These can steadily raise your blood pressure over time and prevent your treatment from being as effective as possible.
If your job, home life or social life continuously get your heart racing to a point where you feel dizzy, uncomfortable, or tight in your chest, it’s time to start thinking about making some changes to your routine.
Echo’s resident psychologist Johanna Denham-Harding says:
“Good ways of relieving stress include practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and even taking time out for yoga. You can discuss the many different ways of combating stress with your doctor or GP.”
How many check-ups will I need to manage my high blood pressure?
Blood Pressure UK states that you'll most likely need to see your GP every few weeks after receiving your initial diagnosis for high blood pressure. They further suggest that once your condition is stable, you can expect to see your GP every six months to a year.
It’s a good idea to use your check-ups to talk to your GP about any changes you have made or are planning to make to your lifestyle habits and to get advice on how to optimise your health management.
Do I need to tell anyone about my high blood pressure?
Once your GP knows that you have hypertension, he or she will note it on your records for other doctors to see - ready for your next appointment.
Making your GP aware of your condition the next time you go to see them will also help to keep everyone who is involved in managing your healthcare up-to-date and on the same page.
But perhaps most importantly, you need to consider telling your pharmacist that you have high blood pressure - especially if you’re planning on buying any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
Alistair Murray says:
“Many over-the-counter medicines, including syrups, tablets and sachets, contain ingredients like decongestants which can elevate your blood pressure as a side effect. So mentioning that you have high blood pressure to your pharmacist will help you avoid buying or taking any medication that could raise your blood pressure.”
Other people you might want to tell about your condition are your close friends and family members, and perhaps even your employer (though this is completely a matter of personal choice).
What are common medicines for treating high blood pressure?
Your GP will tell you which medicines you will need to take to manage your high blood pressure. Here’s a list of the most commonly prescribed medications for hypertension, with a comprehensive breakdown of how each medication lowers your blood pressure.
1) ACE inhibitors
ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) work by opening up your blood vessels and allowing your heart to pump more blood around your body in a more controlled manner. This removes the strain placed on your blood vessels.
Examples of ACE inhibitors:
ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers) lower the levels of the hormone angiotensin II in your bloodstream - thereby preventing the constriction of your blood vessels and lowering your blood pressure.
Examples of ARBs:
CCBs (calcium channel blockers) work by reducing your blood vessels’ capacity for storing calcium in their cell walls. By reducing the amount of calcium that gets to the cell walls of your heart and blood vessels, CCBs allow your blood vessels to relax and supply more oxygenated blood to your heart.
Examples of CCBs:
Diuretics flush more salt out of your kidneys than your body normally would. Flushing the salt out of your body prevents fluid from building up in your blood vessels, lowering your blood pressure in the process.
Examples of diuretics:
5) Beta blockers
Beta blockers, as the name suggests, work by blocking adrenaline and noradrenaline from building up in select areas of your body. This blockage reduces the rate of power at which your heart pumps blood around your body and consequently lowers your blood pressure.
Examples of beta blockers:
6) Alpha blockers
Not entirely dissimilar to beta blockers, alpha blockers work by reducing the effects of adrenaline within your bloodstream. Where a natural bodily amount of adrenaline would usually make your blood vessels constrict, alpha blockers open up your blood vessels and thereby reduce your blood pressure.
Examples of alpha blockers:
If you've been prescribed any of the above medicines for high blood pressure, you can skip the hassle of the last-minute pharmacy dash and order with Echo today.
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