Everything you need to know about living well with high blood pressure
You may be wondering, what is high blood pressure? Below, we explore what causes high blood pressure, what the symptoms of high blood pressure are, and what treatments for high blood pressure are available.
Any medical information provided here is for informational purposes and does not replace medical advice given to you by a medical professional. If you are concerned that you may have any of the high blood pressure symptoms discussed below, please see your GP.
High blood pressure, medical term ‘hypertension’, is a condition that may cause few symptoms but which can increase your risk of causing damage within the body, which can ultimately lead to developing a number of other, serious health conditions.
‘Blood pressure’ is a term used to describe the measurement of how hard and fast your heart is pumping blood around your body. It’s simple to test and is often done as part of routine health checks or even using a blood pressure monitor at home. Having high blood pressure is unhealthy, because it means your heart is having to pump too hard to deliver blood, and this can lead to health conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack/heart failure, stroke, chronic kidney disease and vascular dementia.
One in three people in the UK may have high blood pressure, and half of these are unlikely to have a diagnosis of high blood pressure as they are unaware of the problem. Slightly more men than women have high blood pressure.
There are ways to prevent high blood pressure by living a healthy life, and blood pressure treatment often involves making lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure, as well as possible medications for blood pressure.
For more information on heart disease, visit the NHS website.
High blood pressure is caused by the heart having to pump blood around the body, much harder or faster than it should in a healthy body. Blood causes pressure when it flows and hits the interior walls of the arteries – a certain amount of pressure is good and necessary to make the blood travel to organs, but too much pressure can cause damage to the interior of arteries, which means the heart has to work even harder to pump blood through blockages that can form.
Some people are more likely to get high blood pressure than others, for example, the risk increases as we get older, or if we have a family history of high blood pressure. People of African or Caribbean heritage are also more likely to have high blood pressure than other ethnic groups.
Lifestyle factors also have an impact on your high blood pressure risk, including:
• Lack of/not enough exercise
• Smoking – chemicals cause damage to the artery walls
• Eating an unhealthy diet with too much fat
• Being overweight or living with obesity
• Drinking too much alcohol
Having one of these health conditions can be what causes high blood pressure for some people:
• Other kidney problems, e.g. kidney infection
• Thyroid problems
If you have diabetes, it’s really important to keep your blood pressure under control. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of having high blood pressure because when there is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood, it makes blood cells stick to the interior of the blood vessels, which causes more pressure and possible damage to the vessel walls. Managing your blood sugars can help keep blood pressure down. For more information about risks of high blood pressure for people with diabetes, visit the Diabetes UK website.
Taking certain medications can also cause high blood pressure, for example:
• Oral contraceptive
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
• Selective serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSNRIs)
There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, so it’s really hard to know if you have it. There aren’t any obvious signs of high blood pressure. Most people find out they have high blood pressure as a result of a routine check from a nurse or GP, or a home test. Your doctor is likely to take your blood pressure when you attend an appointment, particularly if you have never had it taken or if it has been a long time since your last test.
If you have extremely high blood pressure, you may experience high blood pressure symptoms such as:
• Bad headaches
• Brain ‘fog’ or confusion
• Chest pain
• Difficulty breathing
• Pounding sensation in your upper body
If you have any of these symptoms, you may need to go to the hospital, as you could be at risk of a heart attack. These are symptoms of high blood pressure that is really severe. It’s important to get your blood pressure tested regularly, so that your blood pressure never gets this high, as it is a serious medical state.
The following conditions may occur as a result of having high blood pressure (to any degree) for a length of time:
High blood pressure can damage the delicate lining of the arteries, which may make it easier for fatty substances to build up on the interior of these blood vessels, in a process called atherosclerosis. This causes blockages within arteries, so that the heart has to pump even harder to get blood around the body, which causes the heart to become more rigid and stiff, making it less effective. This can lead to heart failure. If blood supply in an artery becomes completely blocked – a heart attack may occur. For more information on how high blood pressure and atherosclerosis affect the heart, visit the British Heart Foundation website.
The only way to know if your blood pressure is high, low or healthy is to have your blood pressure tested. This is a simple, painless procedure which can be carried out by a nurse or GP, a pharmacist or even at home.
If you’ve never had your blood pressure checked, you should get tested soon because the sooner you discover any issues, the earlier you can try to lower your blood pressure, and the more likely it is that you can avoid long term damage to your health.
Adults over 40 years old should have regular blood pressure tests, at least every five years. People aged over 40 are eligible for a free NHS health check, which assesses your risk of getting heart disease, having a stroke, or developing dementia or diabetes.
If you are overweight, obese, of African/Caribbean origin, or if you have a blood relative with high blood pressure, you should get tested once a year.
If you are given a diagnosis of high blood pressure from a healthcare professional, you should take steps to reduce blood pressure. Depending on how high your blood pressure is, you may be required to take medication to lower your blood pressure – you can find out more about this in the next section. It can be daunting to receive a high blood pressure diagnosis, and you may be confused as to why you have high blood pressure, or wonder what causes high blood pressure for you. Your nurse or GP is likely to give you lifestyle advice and ask you to come in for regular monitoring.
If you use a home blood pressure monitor and are concerned that your reading says you have high blood pressure, you should book an appointment with your GP, to discuss how to lower your blood pressure.
Since there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, you may wish to find out more information on how to find out if you have high blood pressure through testing by visiting the NHS website.
It is possible to lower your blood pressure so that it is within a safer range, and this may involve a combination of lifestyle changes such as improving your diet and increasing your exercise, along with taking high blood pressure medications. It depends how concerned your doctors are with your blood pressure test results, and how long you have had high blood pressure. The high blood pressure treatment plan proposed to you may change over time; for example, you may need medication for a short period, then find that lifestyle changes have helped reduce your blood pressure so that you can stop the medications. Everyone experiences high blood pressure differently.
Stops the body producing angiotensin II (which makes blood vessels narrower) and relaxes blood vessels so they become wider, whilst also helping the body to not retain water. For more information, visit Blood Pressure UK.
Similar to ACE inhibitors, ARBs block angiotensin II effects in the body, but may be prescribed if ACE inhibitors do not work or cause side effects. For more information, visit the Bupa website.
Calcium narrows blood vessels so CCBs work to block this action. For more information, visit the British Heart Foundation website.
These drugs are known as ‘water tablets’ because they help your kidneys work better to flush out excess water and salt from the body, both of which can cause high blood pressure. For more information, visit Blood Pressure UK.
You may be prescribed more than one drug, depending on how serious your high blood pressure is. Most drug blood pressure treatments have few side effects for the majority of people. You may start by taking one type of treatment for blood pressure, and then change to a different type if it isn’t working as well as your doctor would like.
One of the most effective high blood pressure treatments is to live a healthy lifestyle. This is not to say that people with high blood pressure all have bad diets or do not exercise – lots of people may be very surprised by their high blood pressure diagnosis, and may be more at risk due to their genes, age and ethnicity. However, these people are still likely to benefit from making changes to their lifestyle, such as eating a healthy high blood pressure diet. Read on to find out more about diet and exercise for high blood pressure.
Receiving a high blood pressure diagnosis is likely to be a shock, because you probably won’t have any symptoms and will therefore not realise your health is at risk. Many people do not fully understand the importance of having a healthy blood pressure either, so you may be reading this to help improve your knowledge about the risks of high blood pressure, and treatments for high blood pressure.
If you have high blood pressure, your GP is likely to advise you to make some changes to your lifestyle. These may be minor, such as eating less salt, or they may be more challenging, such as losing a lot of weight if you are overweight or living with obesity.
Here, we explore how living with high blood pressure can impact your life, what lifestyle changes you may need to make, and what products for high blood pressure are available to you.
Having high blood pressure may not affect your daily life when you are unaware that it is high. Once you have a high blood pressure diagnosis, you are likely to need to make lifestyle changes and possibly undertake medication treatments for high blood pressure, which may affect your daily life.
You may be advised to:
Any kind of smoking raises blood pressure, and chemicals that are inhaled from tobacco can damage artery walls. For advice on quitting smoking, visit the Smoke Free website.
If you are overweight or obese – being overweight puts more pressure on the heart because the body is heavier, therefore requires more energy and effort to move and function. The heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body, causing more pressure, and damaging arteries. Visit the NHS website for advice on weight loss.
3 units or more of alcohol raises blood pressure temporarily, so drinking in excess of this on a regular basis will raise blood pressure levels overall. Read more information about alcohol and blood pressure.
Too much saturated fat and cholesterol in the blood can narrow arteries as it builds up on the interior walls. Find out more about high cholesterol.
High levels of salt in a person’s diet can lead to high blood pressure as salt affects how the kidneys function, making them less able to flush water. Water retention causes extra strain on blood vessels. Read more information on how salt affects blood pressure.
Blood pressure may rise temporarily whilst undertaking exercise, but it soon lowers, and regular exercise actually decreases blood pressure in the long run. Exercise makes the heart stronger and more able to pump blood around the body, whilst making blood vessels more flexible. Read more about high blood pressure exercise.
If you are living with high blood pressure, you are likely to need your blood pressure checking regularly by a nurse to ensure it is being managed. You may need to take time off work or from your usual routine when you have these medical appointments.
It may help to read stories from other people living with a high blood pressure diagnosis.
You may wish to purchase your own blood pressure monitor to test your blood pressure easily at home. This Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor is ideal.
You may also be interested in safe and comfortable exercise aids for high blood pressure – these may help you begin an exercise regime to strengthen and tone the body as well as enable aerobic exercise.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of having high blood pressure. If you are given a high blood pressure diagnosis, dietary changes may be advised, and making these changes can help lower your blood pressure, reducing associated high blood pressure risks.
Being overweight increases a person’s risk of receiving a high blood pressure diagnosis, so it’s important to eat healthily to maintain an ideal weight. Being overweight generally means you have more body fat, which not only has an impact on how hard your heart has to beat, but also affects certain hormone levels within the body, which can all cause high blood pressure. Eating a diet rich in vegetables and omega 3 fatty acids, and reducing the amount of trans fats you consume, is likely to help lower your blood pressure. Read more about high blood pressure diet and how fruit and vegetables help lower blood pressure.
Generally speaking, you are likely to be advised to cut down on salt intake, because salt can increase water retention and cause high blood pressure. For more information about salt, and how much is ok to eat, visit the NHS website
Some people take vitamins and minerals as supplements for high blood pressure, such as vitamin D, magnesium or potassium. However, there is a lack of evidence to prove that high blood pressure supplements work for everyone, although some people report that they do. You should always check with your GP or blood pressure nurse before embarking on a programme of high blood pressure supplements.
Many people report that following a programme of exercise for high blood pressure, or simply becoming more active in their daily lives, has reversed their high blood pressure diagnosis.
Start off slowly by increasing the amount you move in the day. A simple walk, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or dancing around the living room all counts as activity and exercise. Most people can build up to do 30 minutes a day.
Other activities you may wish to undertake include:
• Playing a sport e.g. badminton, tennis or golf
If you are not used to exercise, you may wish to avoid high intensity fitness classes or strenuous weight lifting, but this is not to say you will never be able to do these activities. Start slowly, take expert advice where you can, and tell your healthcare team about the high blood pressure exercise you are doing.
The NHS provides more advice about high blood pressure exercise and how to get fit for free.
Having high blood pressure is not usually a barrier to employment. If you are a pilot or diver, or a driver (lorry, bus or taxi), you may need to explore the requirements for blood pressure levels that are legal for driving. You are likely to be able to continue to work, unless your blood pressure is extremely high.
If you are in work, you may wish to tell your employer about your high blood pressure – but you do not have to. Read this information from Blood Pressure UK if you are concerned about high blood pressure and employment rules.
We hope the high blood pressure explanation provided here has been helpful. High blood pressure can usually be treated effectively so that you are able to live well and avoid future health risks.
There is a lot of high blood pressure help available to you. Some people find it helps to talk to others who are affected by high blood pressure and we list some online high blood pressure support groups below. We also include links to other online resources with information and advice. If you are concerned about anything you have read in this guide, please discuss with your GP.
High Blood Pressure Support – a Facebook group for people with high blood pressure (or their family members) to share tips, advice, information and personal experiences
Blood Pressure UK – a charity providing high blood pressure support and advice with a wealth of online information
British Heart Foundation – a charity supporting people with heart problems and related conditions such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, featuring online information, leaflets, and a heart helpline
Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland – a Scottish charity providing information on health conditions such as heart disease, with an advice line
Heart UK – a charity providing support, information and education to families with raised cholesterol, including a helpline, factsheets and grants
Kidney Research UK – a charity supporting people with kidney conditions, but which also features information and advice about high blood pressure, and its link to kidney health
NHS – source of official medical information about causes, symptoms and treatments for high blood pressure and related conditions. Also includes a stroke helpline and online stroke support tool
Stroke Association – information and advice about high blood pressure and how it may cause stroke, as well as information on how to lower blood pressure and reduce associated risks
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of high blood pressure as straightforward as possible.
Tubes in the body that carry blood
A condition where plaque builds up in the arteries, causing arteries to narrow, which may lead to heart disease and other health conditions
The small tubes in the body that carry blood around. An artery is a type of blood vessel, as is a vein and capillary
Found in the body’s cells, this waxy substance can build up in the body, for instance in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease
A form of sugar that comes from foods, which is used for energy in the body
An illness caused by bacteria from the bladder travelling to one or both kidneys
An autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to turn on the body, attacking organs and tissue and causing inflammation in joints, skin and organs
An essential nutrient in the body that can be taken as a supplement in order to balance blood sugar levels, improve blood pressure and strengthen bones
A type of inflammation-relieving and pain-relieving medication
Occur naturally in foods such as fish, this is important for brain and heart health
Helps prevent pregnancy occurring
The key components of the body, including brain, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs
Found inside the body’s cells, potassium levels affect the heart, nerves and muscles
Less healthy than other fats that we consume in food, saturated fat is found in animal products such as dairy and red meat, and research shows it raises cholesterol levels
A condition where the skin and tissue hardens and tightens
An antidepressant medication e.g. Cymbalta or Effexor
Prescription medication that may be used for a variety of reasons, but which sometimes cause high blood pressure and other side effects such as elevated cholesterol
A gland in the neck which produces hormones that affect the organs and metabolism
Artificial fats that are created using vegetable oil and hydrogen, which appear in many processed and packaged foods, and which are harmful to the body as they can raise cholesterol
A substance in the body that regulates calcium and phosphate, keeping bones healthy, and which may be taken as a supplement by people with low blood pressure, since low vitamin d levels is associated with high blood pressure