About Blood Pressure
In the UK at least a quarter of all adults suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension (the medical name for it). This figure rises to more than 50% in people over the age of 60.
Because hypertension rarely has any symptoms, many people have high blood pressure without even knowing. Shockingly, the British Heart Foundation reckons as many as 5 million people in the UK are walking around with undiagnosed hypertension.
If you have high blood pressure and it is left untreated your heart can become enlarged making it pump less effectively putting you at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Hypertension rarely has any symptoms. This is why it is important to get your blood pressure checked at least every five years. The British Heart Foundation recommends that everyone over 40 gets their blood pressure taken by a nurse or doctor.
What is blood pressure?
Our heart pumps blood through our blood vessels to send oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body. How hard the blood presses against the walls of our arteries as it goes on its journey is our ‘blood pressure’.
The pressure is influenced by two things:
- how forcefully our heart pumps
- how wide or relaxed our blood vessels are
If the vessels are narrow the heart has to work harder to push the blood through them. So the higher your blood pressure the harder your heart is having to work.
When we are active our blood pressure rises as the heart is working harder, conversely when we are relaxed or asleep the pressure goes down.
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.
How to treat high blood pressure?
Lifestyle changes will be advised including a regime of exercise, healthy eating, a reduction in salt, alcohol and caffeine intake and smoking cessation.
Medicines may also be prescribed to lower your blood pressure. There are a wide range of prescribed drugs available. If you are prescribed blood pressure medicines your doctor will need to 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.
- Quit smoking - although smoking does not directly affect blood pressure it causes your arteries to narrow just as high blood pressure does. So if you smoke and have high blood pressure you greatly increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.