Under Pressure

The Strain of High Blood Pressure and How to Reduce It

One in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure and six million of those are completely unaware they have it. [1] Do you know what your blood pressure is or even what it should be? High blood pressure is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ as it leads to 350 people a day in the UK having a stroke or heart attack that could have been prevented.

The Global Burden of Disease 2015 highlights that high blood pressure is the second biggest known global risk factor for disease after tobacco smoking and poor diet. It’s projected it will affect 1.5 billion people around the world by 2025 [2].

Every year Blood Pressure UK host their ‘Know Your Numbers’ week to raise awareness of high blood pressure and encourage all UK adults to get a blood pressure check.

The Strain on The NHS

According to the government website “High blood pressure places a considerable strain on the NHS” at a cost of £2.1bn every year [3]. Strokes, Coronary Heart Disease, Vascular dementia and Chronic kidney disease are quoted as the diseases caused by high blood pressure which contribute to the cost.

What do the numbers mean?

When you have your blood pressure taken you receive a top and bottom reading. The first, or top number is the systolic blood pressure – the highest level your blood pressure reaches at the point your heart beats and pumps blood around the body. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure – the lowest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart relaxes between beats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and written with the first number/second number.

What should my blood pressure be?

140/90mmHg or over – you may have high blood pressure

120/80mmHg to 140/90mmHg – pre high blood pressure

90/60mmHg to 120/80mmHg – ideal blood pressure

90/60mmHg or lower – you may have low blood pressure

Highs and Lows

Blood pressure refers to the amount of force your blood pushes against blood vessel walls.

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. Generally, there aren’t any symptoms of high blood pressure and the first sign of it is something as serious as a heart attack or stroke. Occasionally someone with very high blood pressure could have symptoms such as a headache, bloodshot eyes or feeling sick or unwell. High blood pressure is common – about ½ of adults have it - although many are unaware.

Low blood pressure – also known as hypotension – means the pressure against the blood vessel walls is lower than the normal range. Your blood pressure can be naturally low and not cause any problems or need treating. Low blood pressure can sometimes cause you to feel dizzy or faint, have heart palpations, blurred vision, nausea or fainting.

Conditions Caused by High Blood Pressure

Stroke

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels leading them to become blocked or burst and consequently restricting blood flow to the brain causing a stroke.

Heart Disease

High blood pressure can damage and clog up your arteries, reducing the blood flow around the body and back to the heart. The high pressure puts extra strain on your blood vessels and heart and can lead to heart failure or heart attacks.

Kidney Disease

Your kidneys and blood pressure affect each other. Looking after your blood pressure helps to keep your kidneys healthy. But kidney disease can raise your blood pressure. The biggest concern for those with kidney disease is not kidney failure, but the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Vascular Dementia

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels and affect blood flow to the brain. This can lead to a type of dementia called vascular dementia.

Causes of high blood pressure

It’s not completely understood what causes high blood pressure and for many it is not one particular cause. Your lifestyle choices can have a big impact on your blood pressure though, and the following risk factors considerably increase your chances of having high blood pressure.

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Eating too much salt
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating too much fat and sugar
  • Not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Not exercising regularly

Preventing High Blood Pressure

There are lots of small lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure. It’s normal for blood pressure to fluctuate slightly throughout the day, due to regular things like stress, eating or exercising. There are also factors which will affect your blood pressure which you can’t moderate, such as age, genetics, gender and ethnicity. However, below are some of the most influential factors for keeping your blood pressure consistently within the ideal blood pressure range.

Healthy Diet – Cut down on salt (to less than 6g (0.2oz) a day), eat a low-fat diet including plenty of fibre and fruit and vegetables.

Lose Weight – Carrying extra weight forces your heart to work harder and in turn raises your blood pressure. Even a small loss in weight can make a significant improvement to your blood pressure.

Exercise – Regular exercise keeps your heart and blood vessels in good condition and helps to lower your blood pressure.

Reduce Caffeine – Caffeine can increase your blood pressure and you should think about reducing your intake of coffee, tea or other caffeine-rich drinks such as energy drinks.

Quit Smoking – Smoking causes your arteries to narrow and increases your risk of heart and stroke disease drastically.

Reduce Alcohol Intake – Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can raise your blood pressure over time. Alcohol is also high in calories so can increase your weight as well.

The most important thing to remember though, is that you need to know what your blood pressure is before you can take appropriate action to change it, if necessary. Regular monitoring is the key to being proactive about protecting your health and focusing on prevention of the serious diseases that high blood pressure can result in. If you are serious about prioritising your health and would like to know more about health insurance and how it can help with this and other health conditions, don’t hesitate to contact us. One of our advisers will be happy to search the market to find the best options and policies to suit your individual situation and budget.

[1] http://www.bloodpressureuk.org

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government