High blood pressure or hypertension (the medical name for it) is a huge problem in the UK. According to *NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) at least a quarter of all adults suffer from it. This figure rises to more than 50% in the over 60s.
This is not good news - left untreated, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.
But there is much you can do to beat hypertension and reduce your risk of ill-health.
What causes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure occurs when your blood presses too strongly against the walls of your arteries (large blood vessels) putting strain on your arteries and your heart. This increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other conditions.
It’s important to have your blood pressure checked at least every five years to see if you are at risk. Your healthcare provider will measure your ‘systolic pressure’ - the pressure of the blood when your heart beats to pump blood out, and your ‘diastolic pressure’ to measure your heart between beats (when it rests).
The top reading is for systolic pressure and the bottom one diastolic pressure. A reading below 130/80mmHg is normal, a reading of 140/90mmHg or greater is considered high.
What causes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure cannot be cured but it can be controlled.
If you have mild or moderate high blood pressure you may be able to reduce it through lifestyle changes. Typical adjustments include a regime of exercise, healthy eating including plenty of fruit and veg, a reduction in salt and alcohol and smoking cessation. To retain control of your blood pressure you need to maintain these changes permanently.
Extremely high blood pressure (malignant hypertension) or rapidly worsening hypertension (accelerated hypertension), almost always requires medication prescribed by a doctor. There are a wide range of prescribed drugs available. These work in various ways ranging from Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors which reduce blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels, through to diuretics which flush out excess salt and water so that the heart has less to pump.
Common hypertension drugs include: Lisinopril (Zestril, Prinivil), amlodipine (Norvasc), carvedilol (Coreg), and hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL, Esidrix).
Sometimes you will be asked to take a combination of drugs. Most blood pressure medications produce side effects so it may take a while to work out which ones works best for you. In all cases, your doctor will need to advise you and monitor your progress.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
A number of studies suggest the antioxidant supplement Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can reduce blood pressure. A dose of 100 mg daily is required to make a difference and it can take between 4-12 weeks to see any changes. CoQ10 is also found naturally in some foods including liver, sardines and mackerel.
Clinical trials also support the use of garlic supplements to lower blood pressure. In an Australian study, patients who were given 960 mg of aged garlic extract daily had much lower blood pressure readings after a period of 12 weeks.
Sidestep salt - if you have high blood pressure then it is worth sticking to a low-sodium diet . Limit salty fast foods, avoid using table salt and read the labels on shop-bought foods. Ideally you should cut your salt intake to less than 6g (0.2oz) a day.