Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a key cause of preventable illness. It contributes to many strokes, heart attacks and cases of kidney disease.
High blood pressure is very common, but unfortunately most people with hypertension feel perfectly well and may have no idea of the potential consequences of this condition if it is left untreated.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood circulates through our bodies in a network of blood vessels known as the vascular system. The heart acts as a pump, continually pushing blood around the system. When blood pressure is measured, 2 figures are recorded, for example: 120/80 mmHg.
The higher number is called the systolic blood pressure. This is a measure of the highest pressure in the vascular system, which happens with each contraction of the heart. The lower figure, the diastolic pressure, is the pressure in the vascular system between heartbeats.
If either, or both, of these levels are too high, high blood pressure is present.
In general terms, there is cause for concern when the systolic pressure is above 140 mmHg and the diastolic pressure is above 90 mmHg. Readings above 140/90 mmHg are considered to be high blood pressure and are further classified as mild, moderate and severe hypertension.
Sometimes high blood pressure occurs as a result of other diseases, particularly kidney disease. But in many cases there is no obvious cause.
How is high blood pressure (hypertension) treated?
Mild hypertension can often be treated by changes to lifestyle. Weight loss and increased exercise can make a big difference for some people. Other lifestyle measures include quitting smoking, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink and eating a healthy, low-salt diet. These changes can lower blood pressure and your risk of heart disease.
For most cases of moderate and severe hypertension, treatment with medicine is necessary in addition to lifestyle changes. Hypertension is not a disease that can be cured, but it can be controlled.
A wide variety of medicines (known as anti-hypertensive medicines) is now available and treatment is tailored to suit the particular person. For some people, blood pressure may be controlled with a single tablet taken once a day. Others may need more than this and may need a combination of several different medicines to control their blood pressure.
Newer treatments generally have far fewer side effects than the medicines originally used to treat hypertension, and most people continue to live normal lives with the small inconvenience of having to take one or more tablets every day.
Blood pressure checks and staying healthy
It is sensible for all adults to have their blood pressure checked occasionally. If the level is high, your doctor will want to re-check it a few times on separate occasions. If the level remains high, tests (investigations) and treatment may be necessary.
By controlling blood pressure and addressing other risk factors such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and a high cholesterol level in the blood, many lives could be prolonged and devastating heart attacks and strokes prevented.