What is hypertension?
Hypertension is a long-term condition where an individual’s blood pressure is continuously raised. Blood pressure is recorded via manual sphygmomanometer (featured above) or machine using two numbers – a diastolic and a systolic reading. The systolic reading (the higher, top number) reflects the force the heart uses to pump blood around the body, whilst the diastolic reading (the lower, bottom number) shows the blood vessel’s resistance to this blood flow. An ideal reading would be between 90/60mmHg to 120/80mmHg. Hypertension would be considered when the reading exceeds 140/90mmHg.
Hypertension often causes no symptoms, but some may experience severe headaches (particularly behind the eyes), visual disturbances (spots, flashing lights or floating black spots in front of the eyes), chest pain, dizziness, nosebleeds or confusion.
What causes it?
Numerous factors contribute to the development of high blood pressure, including:
Does hypertension have any health risks?
If hypertension is left untreated there’s a much higher risk of life-threatening health problems as the force of blood flow puts additional strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. There is a considerably higher risk of serious health problems including heart disease/heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysms, kidney disease and vascular dementia.
How can I prevent hypertension?
Making changes to reduce your blood pressure even a tiny bit can help to lower your risk of serious health conditions. You should make sure to have regular blood pressure checks if you are at risk of developing hypertension or already diagnosed with it. These blood pressure checks can be performed at an NHS or private GP surgery, some pharmacies or at home using an electronic blood pressure machine.
Being aware of your family history (and history of high blood pressure, strokes or cardiac problems) can help to reduce your risk as you should get regular blood pressure checks, particularly if you are over the age of 65 years. Another way to lower your risk would be to increase the amount of regular exercise you take and to reduce/quit drinking alcohol or caffeine, or smoking. If you have a stressful lifestyle or job then making changes to try and reduce the stress you experience can help by speaking to your employer or trying activities such as yoga, mindfulness or meditation. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet incorporating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables with a reduction in salt intake, and if possible try to get more than 6 hours of sleep each night.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your GP may prescribe you medication to keep your blood pressure within safe limits and try to reduce your risk of stroke, heart attacks and other health problems. You should have regular blood pressure checks to make sure your medication continues to be effective and does not make you ‘hypotensive’ instead – have exceedingly low blood pressure (under 60/90mmHg).
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