Lifestyle issues

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Answers to the most common questions about how having high blood pressure can affect day-to-day life.

Lifestyle issues

Can I fly if I have high blood pressure?

It is generally safe for you to fly if you have high blood pressure and it is well controlled.  However, if your blood pressure is unstable or very high then you should talk to your doctor before you make any travel plans.  It makes good sense to see your doctor before you travel and have your blood pressure checked, even if it is well-controlled.

For some medical conditions you may need to check with the airline and be passed fit to fly. You will need medical clearance by the airline you travel with if your fitness to travel is in doubt or if you need special services such as oxygen.  Your travel agent can give you a form, which you and your doctor will need to complete and send to the airline well before you travel. Very few people are not able to fly because of their health.

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Can having sex be dangerous if you have high blood pressure?

Sex does raise your blood pressure, but only briefly.  There are very few reports of people having a stroke or a heart attack during sex since although blood pressure does rise, it is not to very high levels. 

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Does drinking too much coffee raise your blood pressure?

Drinking coffee only has a small effect on blood pressure and therefore cutting down or stopping will not lower it.  Other parts of your diet, such as the amount of salt or fruit and vegetables you eat are much more likely to have an effect on your blood pressure, so concentrate on getting these right.

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Can I take decongestants if I have high blood presure?

Nasal decongestants, when taken in high dose, can cause a rise in blood pressure but this should not occur with normal doses (as recommended by the makers). Occasionally we do encounter people who use nasal decongestants excessively – particularly in the form of a spray – and this can cause problems.

The best thing would be to measure your blood pressure once or twice after taking one of your nasal decongestant tablets. If your blood pressure is okay then it’s fine. And once your cold is over you should definitely stop using these treatments.

If you continue to suffer from nasal problems when you have not got a cold then it is worth seeing your doctor to have it checked out. Your GP may then refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to find the cause of your problems.

The upshot of all this is that I would strongly recommend that you obtain a home blood pressure monitor to regularly check your blood pressure if you are taking any other medications – especially if you are on anti-arthritic drugs.

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Does stress cause high blood pressure?

The answer lies in the difference between the short-term effects and the long-term effects. It is true that being stressed causes our blood pressures to rise for a few minutes. When we feel stressed our bodies release adrenaline and our heart rates and blood pressures rise as our bodies get ready for action. (This is known as the “flight or fight” response.) But this effect only lasts a few minutes and then our blood pressures return to normal.

In contrast, true high blood pressure is having a permanently raised level for weeks, months and years. So far, it has not been shown that regular short bursts of adrenaline-induced blood pressure rises have any lasting effect on the body. In fact the rates of high blood pressure and heart disease are the same among people who do not have stressful jobs as among people with stress-filled jobs.

However, people may deal with stress in ways that may increase their risk of high blood pressure. They may eat processed foods that are high in salt, fail to eat enough fruit and vegetables, smoke or drink too much alcohol. They may also struggle to find time to be active.

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Why is cold weather bad for people with high blood pressure?

It is true that more people have heart attacks or strokes in the winter than in the summer. Low temperatures make our blood vessels constrict to conserve heat and maintain body temperature. But this means that there is less room for our blood to move in, increasing our blood pressure and heart rate, and thickening the blood.

If you have narrowed arteries, these factors may cause chest pains (angina) and increase the chances of blood clots forming in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The risk of this happening is greater in people with high blood pressure. The best advice is to avoid being out in the cold for long periods and to wrap up warm.

Winter fuel and cold weather payments are available for retired people.

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