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Discovering high blood pressure (hypertension)
Q. I have hypertension, what does this mean?
A. Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Both terms mean the same thing.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is defined as having a blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 mmHg over a number of weeks. Our blood pressures change all the time throughout the day, so your doctor is looking to make sure that your hypertensive reading is not just a one-off.
You may also have hypertension if just one of the numbers is higher than it should be. If the top number (systolic pressure) is consistently higher than 140 - this is known as Isolated Systolic Hypertension. If the bottom number (diastolic pressure) is consistently higher than 90 - this is known as Isolated Diastolic Hypertension.
If you have hypertension, this higher pressure it puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. Over time, this extra strain increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension can also cause heart and kidney disease, and is closely linked to some forms of dementia. If you have hypertension it is vital that you do not ignore it and follow a healthy lifestyle to lower it and take any hypertension medications you are given.
What causes hypertension?
For most people, there may be no single cause for their hypertension. We do not know exactly what causes hypertension. We do know that your lifestyle can affect your risk of developing it. You are at a higher risk if:
- you eat too much salt;
- you don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables;
- you are not active enough;
- you are overweight; or
- you drink too much alcohol.
There are some factors that increase your risk of developing hypertension, which you cannot control. These include:
- Age: as you get older, the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle can build up and your blood pressure can increase.
- Ethnic origin: people from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities are at greater risk than other people of hypertension.
- Family history: you are at greater risk if other members of your family have, or have had, hypertension.
Some people may have hypertension that is linked to another medical condition, such as kidney problems. For these people treating the medical problem may lower their blood pressure back to normal.
How to lower hypertension
The good news is that if you have hypertension, healthy changes will help to bring it down. And you don't have to wait until you have hypertension to make healthy lifestyle changes. The more you can reduce your blood pressure, the lower your risk of a heart or stroke will be.
- Eat less salt - see our Salt page
- Eat more fruit and vegetables - see our Fruit and vegetables page
- Keep to the recommended daily alcohol limits - see our Alcohol page
- Keep active - see our Get active pages
- Be a healthy weight - see our Healthy weight and Losing weight pages
- Take any hypertension medicines or diabetes medication you have been given - see our Blood pressure medicines pages.
By making these changes to your daily life you will help to dramatically lower your risk of developing heart disease, stroke or kidney disease due to hypertension in the future.