When the heart contracts and forces blood into the arteries it creates a pressure called 'blood pressure'. Every living person has a blood pressure, and it is this pressure that allows the blood to circulate around the body. Blood pressure varies throughout the day, going up during times of activity and going down when you are relaxed. Hypertension is the name given to the condition when the blood pressure is persistently high. The high pressure puts an excess strain on the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and other organs and increases the risk of developing heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage.
Usually the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured. Most people cannot tell if their blood pressure is high any other way. It is recommended that all adults should have their blood pressure measured at least every 5 years. Those with high normal values or with other risk factors such as diabetes or smoking should be measured at least annually.
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High blood pressure is not usually something that you can cure, but it can be treated. Everyone should make lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, losing weight, cutting down the level of saturated fats in the diet, eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, taking regular exercise and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake. Some people may be able get their blood pressure down by life.
- Give up smoking - see give up smoking section.
- Cut down on the amount of salt you eat - no more than 5 grams a day.
- Don't add salt to food at the table or in cooking.
- Avoid eating salty, processed foods.
- Keep alcohol intake below the recommended limits.
- If overweight try to shed a few pounds.
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat and high in fibre.
- Take regular exercise.