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Practical matters

 

Being diagnosed with high blood pressure shouldn’t stop you living your life to the full.

Here you can read about the practical side of with living with high blood pressure, including work, travel, going out and your sex life.

You can also find answers to many commonly-asked questions in our FAQs.

 

Your social life

There is no reason why high blood pressure should affect your social life, you just need to keep an eye on what you eat and drink.

 

Takeaways and eating out

Restaurant meals and takeaways foods can be very high in salt and saturated fat, especially fast foods such as Chinese and Indian takeaways, pizza, kebabs and fried chicken. These can have an effect on how much salt and fat you’re eating overall which can raise your blood pressure, especially if you eat them often. It’s best to avoid them or eat them just occasionally (once a month).

There is no reason why you can’t enjoy a good meal at a restaurant, and there are often healthy options available. The staff should be able to tell you which meals are healthier. Depending on the restaurant, you can also phone ahead to ask about healthy options and for less salt to be added.

About healthy eating

 

Going out

You will need to watch what you drink, as alcohol raises your blood pressure. Stick to the guidelines of no more than 14 units a week to look after your health. Read more about cutting down on alcohol

Being out and about keeps you active.  Dancing is a great form of physical activity, so if you like going out to dance this will help keep your blood pressure in check. Read more about getting active.

 

Recreational drugs

Recreational drugs, particularly cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines, can cause a fast and dramatic rise in your blood pressure. This is particularly risky if you already have high blood pressure, and can cause a stroke or heart attack. The risks are higher if mixed with alcohol as well. 

Using drugs can also raise your blood pressure over time, and are a cause of high blood pressure.

 

Your sex life and family planning

Having high blood pressure doesn’t mean you need to stop having sex. There is a myth that sex can bring on a stroke or heart attack, but in reality, this is rare. Sex does raise your blood pressure but only temporarily and only by a small amount. 

Sex is actually good for your blood pressure because it’s a form of physical activity and gets your heart rate going. If you are worried, check with your doctor or nurse.

If you have heart disease, sex should be safe for you as long as you are able to do other physical activities that have a similar effect on your heart rate without causing chest pain, such as walking up two flights of stairs.

There is also some research showing that physical intimacy, such as hugging and holding hands could lower your heart rate and your blood pressure as well.

Sexual problems caused by high blood pressure

Men with high blood pressure sometimes experience problems getting or keeping an erection that’s hard enough for penetrative sex. This is caused by reduced blood flow to the penis. Lowering your blood pressure could be all you need to improve your erections.

Occasionally, women with high blood pressure will have less interest in sex as well, or might find it uncomfortable if blood flow to the vagina is reduced.

Some medications used to lower blood pressure can also cause sexual problems. For example, thiazide diuretics and beta-blockers can cause erectile dysfunction

If you need to start taking blood pressure medications, speak to your doctor about the possible side effects. If you do experience these side effects, don’t stop taking your medications because your blood pressure will go back up, but speak to your doctor because there are often different medications you can use instead. 

Don’t be embarrassed to speak to your GP about sexual issues, they have heard it all before and can offer treatments which dramatically improve your quality of life.

Contraception

You can still use contraception if you have high blood pressure, and your doctor or nurse will be able to discuss the best options with you.

Contraceptives that don’t involve hormones and don’t affect your blood stream will not have any effect on your blood pressure, so these are safe to use. For example, condoms and diaphragms.

Some contraceptives for women can contain the hormones oestrogen and progesterone which are released into your blood stream.  They can have an effect on your blood pressure and your risk of stroke and heart attacks. These include tablets, injections and some IUDs (Interuterine devices, also known as the coil).

Your doctor will consider your blood pressure before prescribing any of these contraceptions, and you might need to keep having your blood pressure checked while you’re using them.   

NHS Choices has more information about contraception.

Having a baby

If you have well controlled high blood pressure, there is no reason why you can’t have a perfectly healthy pregnancy. The risks of complications are slightly higher so you will need to be monitored more closely. 

If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant and you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. They can make sure you have the right care and support, and will make sure any blood pressure medications you’re taking are suitable – some medications need to be avoided during pregnancy as they could affect the baby.

If you have high blood pressure which is not well controlled it is safer to wait until it is under control before trying to get pregnant.

Read more about high blood pressure in pregnancy.

 

Travel

High blood pressure shouldn’t stop you travelling or going on holiday. Most modes of transport, including flying, are fine if your blood pressure is well controlled.  It’s still a good idea to speak to your doctor before you go away and have your blood pressure checked to be on the safe side. You could also take a home blood pressure monitor away with you.

If your blood pressure is unstable or very high, for example over 180/100mmHg, talk to your doctor before you make any travel plans. They will want to bring your blood pressure under control.

If you’re taking blood pressure medicines and you’re going to be away for more than a few weeks, speak to your doctor so that they can make sure you have enough tablets for your trip, and discuss anything else you need to know.

You will need to tell your travel insurance company that you have high blood pressure to make sure you’re covered. Read more on getting insurance.

You can also get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to give you access to necessary, state-provided medical care during trips to Europe. The cost of medical will be the same as for people in the country you’re visiting. This is not an alternative to travel insurance. Find out more about the EHIC.

 

Driving

Driving a car or motorbike

It’s fine to drive a car or motorbike for your own personal use if you have high blood pressure, and you don’t need to tell the DVLA.

Some blood pressure medications cause side effects that could make it unsafe to drive, such as dizziness or tiredness. Speak to your doctor about any side effects you’re experiencing and whether it’s safe to drive. You should be able to try a different medicine or a lower dose. Read more about medications and their side effects.

Driving a caree for work

If you drive a car professionally, for example if you drive a taxi, you will need to let the DVLA know if you have high blood pressure. The regulations are different if you drive professionally, as you’re likely to be spending more time behind the wheel. See below.

Similar rules apply if you man a boat, ship or plane with passengers.

Get more information about driving professionally with high blood pressure from the DVLA.

Driving a bus, coach or lorry

If you drive a bus or a lorry, you need to tell the DVLA if you have high blood pressure. The medical safety standards for driving large vehicles are higher than for cars or motorcycle, and you may spend much more time behind the wheel, especially if driving is part of your job.

Telling the DVLA

If you need to tell the DVLA about your high blood pressure, you can tell them by filling in this form. They will let you know within six weeks if it’s safe for you to drive, and might contact your doctor or arrange for you to be examined.

If you are not permitted to drive, the good news is that once your blood pressure has been lowered and is under control, you can reapply for your licence.

 

Work

Having high blood pressure shouldn’t affect your job or your career progression, unless your condition affects your ability to do your job or makes it unsafe.

The Disability Discrimination Act prevents employers from discriminating against employees on the grounds of a health problem. In fact, your employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate any needs you might have. For example, adjusting your hours so that you can go to appointments. Read more about your rights.

Some medicines for high blood pressure can make you feel sleepy or lethargic. If your doctor recommends medications, speak to them about which ones will be suitable and the possible side effects. It’s also usually possible to try a different medication if you have side effects with one.

Jobs which might not be suitable

Any job or work which causes extreme changes in speed or pressure can potentially be harmful for people with high blood pressure, for example, diving, driving or flying at high speed.

Certain jobs may require you to undergo a medical examination and may exclude people with high blood pressure. If this is the case, it is worth discussing with the employer whether or not they can accommodate you if your blood pressure is shown to be under control due to the lifestyle changes and medical treatments you are taking.

If you are a professional driver, whether you can continue to drive for work will depend on your blood pressure numbers and how well controlled they are. Read more about driving if you are a professional driver.

 

Money

Insurance

You will need to declare your high blood pressure to travel and life insurance companies.

The health declarations of many insurance companies go into a lot of detail and you will need to declare any medical conditions you have or have had in the past, and any medications you’re taking or have taken. Health conditions can make insurance more expensive but if you make a claim later on, any undeclared conditions or medicines can mean your insurance is void. It’s better to be safe than sorry and declare your high blood pressure.

The British Heart Foundation have more information on getting insurance, including a list of companies who are sympathetic towards people with high blood pressure and heart problems.

Paying for blood pressure medications

Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

If you live in England and you’re prescribed blood pressure medications, you will need to pay for them unless you are entitled to free prescriptions. There might also be other ways to keep the costs down.

  • Free prescriptions. You might be eligible for free prescriptions, for example, if you are over 60, pregnant or have had a baby in the last year, if you have a medical exemption certificate, if you have a disability which means you can’t go out without help, or if you receive certain benefits. 
  • Prescription repayment certificates. These allow you to pay a one-off fee to cover all your prescriptions for three months or 12 months, which can mean you pay less over all. 
  • Combination tablets. Ask your doctor whether any of your blood pressure medicines are available as a combination tablet. These combine two medications together in one tablet, for example an ACE inhibitor and a diuretic. This will mean that you only have to pay for one medicine and not two.
  • The NHS Low Income Scheme. If you’re on a low income you might be entitled to help paying for prescriptions. You will need to complete an HC1 form, then apply for an HC2 or HC3 certificate.  The scheme can also help with other costs including travel to receive NHS treatments. 

Find out more about free prescriptions and if you are eligible from NHS England

 

 

 

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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6BQ

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