Great Britain

High blood pressure is a silent killer — Dr Zoe explains how to get in under control

IT’S a silent killer that increases your risk of many life-threatening conditions.

Rarely does it have noticeable symptoms, but high blood pressure – aka hypertension – is the No1 contributing risk factor for global death.

At least half of all heart attacks and strokes are associated with high blood pressure and it is a major risk factor for chronic kidney disease, heart failure and vascular dementia.

Studies have also shown there seems to be a link between high blood pressure and severe illness or death from coronavirus. And figures from the Office for National Statistics found hypertension to be a common pre-existing condition in men under 60 whose loss of life was linked to Covid-19.

Scientists are still investigating the link, but if you need another reason to get healthy, this might be it.

First things first – how do you know if your blood pressure is high? The only way is to get it checked. You can ask a pharmacist, your GP practice or you can buy your own machine for a tenner. If you’re over 40, you should be getting it checked at least every five years, and please do take up your free NHS Health Check.

GET IT CHECKED

A BP reading records two numbers. The larger number is the systolic pressure. This is the highest level of your blood pressure – when your heart beats and forces blood into your arteries.

The other is the diastolic pressure. This is the lowest level of your blood pressure – when your heart relaxes between beats. An ideal BP reading is usually between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.

Anything over 180/110mmHg and you’re in dangerous territory and could be diagnosed with severe hypertension, which must be treated immediately. An extreme increase in blood pressure – known as a hypertensive crisis – can cause a sudden stroke or heart attack.

Something that is of huge concern to doctors like me is that more than 5.5million people in England have undiagnosed hypertension. For every ten people who are diagnosed with it, a further seven remain undiagnosed.

When warning signs do appear – things like headaches, nosebleeds and blurry vision – it’s likely that your condition has already progressed to the point where it could be life-threatening. So what increases your risk?

You are at higher risk the older you are, if high BP runs in your family or if you are of Black African or Black Caribbean ethnicity. People from the most deprived areas of England are 30 per cent more at risk.

Though it is linked to older age more and more young patients are coming in with hypertension. So what can you do to lower your risk of high BP?

Small changes can lead to big gains, so things such as starting to go for a walk each day, eating a healthier diet, reducing the amount of salt and processed food you eat and eating more fruit and veg can help.

Losing a bit of weight can really help to make a big difference in time.
Studies have shown that losing just 5kg (11lb) can lead to a significant cut in blood pressure.

It’s also worth trying to reduce your alcohol intake, and managing stress too – both are considerable risk factors for hypertension.

There are many ways to treat high blood pressure, but it can only be treated if you know about it. So please do get it checked.

Dad, 89, beats coronavirus despite suffering with diabetes and high blood pressure and needing ventilator

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