A GP checking a patient's blood pressure
A GP checking a patient's blood pressure

What causes high blood pressure? The risks and treatment

High blood pressure is rife among Brits, but what actually causes it?

Matty Edwards
Thursday 21 June 2018 15:18

With links to the most common diseases and health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and vascular dementia, high blood pressure has a huge influence on the health of the country.

In fact, around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure, half of which are not diagnosed or receiving treatment, according to Blood Pressure UK.

High blood pressure or hypertension is also the third biggest risk factor for disease and disability in England after smoking and poor diet. It costs the NHS an estimated £2.1 billion every year.

The depressing facts and figures go on, but what actually is blood pressure and what causes it?

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers: systolic pressure (the higher number) is the force your heart pumps blood around the body, and diastolic pressure (the lower number) is the resistance to your blood flow in the blood vessels.

The ideal blood pressure is considered to fall between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, according to NHS Choices.

What causes high blood pressure

The subject of constant scientific research, high blood pressure has been linked to all sorts of lifestyle choices over the years, including smoking cannabis, excessive internet use, living under a flight path and eating potatoes.

It’s not always certain what causes high blood pressure but certain aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle can increase your risk, such as:

  1. being overweight or obese
  2. eating too much salt and not eating enough fruit and vegetables
  3. not doing enough exercise
  4. drinking too much alcohol or caffeinated drinks
  5. smoking
  6. not getting much sleep

That lifestyle profile may sound like a considerable portion of the British public, but it’s not too late - making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your blood pressure or reduce the risk of high levels.

Other factors that are out of your control also play a part, including being over 65, having a relative with high blood pressure or being of African or Caribbean descent.

Apart from switching to a healthier lifestyle, there is a wide range of medication that can be prescribed to treat it by your doctor.

It’s not all doom and gloom though because a 2012 study found that chocolate can actually lower blood pressure.

The research found that daily consumption of dark or cocoa powder caused a slight reduction in blood pressure readings. Just don’t use this as an excuse to go chocolate mad.

Pregnant women

High blood pressure is also quite common among pregnant women. If pregnant women develop high blood pressure during the pregnancy it can affect the growth of the baby, so it is recommended to get it checked as often as possible.

The same healthy lifestyle advice applies to reducing the risk for pregnant women, but those over the age of 40, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 35, or those who have left a 10-year gap since their last pregnancy are at greater risk.

The higher the blood pressure, the more likely the doctor will opt to induce the birth early or consider a caesarean section.

Low blood pressure

However, it’s not good to have low blood pressure, either. Even though it can be simply because you are fit and healthy, it can cause you to faint, feel weak, lightheaded or dizzy, and have blurred vision.

If you feel these kind of symptoms when you stand up or suddenly change position then you may have low blood pressure.

Apart from being healthy, low blood pressure could be caused by being pregnant, taking some types of medication and having medical conditions like diabetes.

All adults over 40 are advised to have their blood pressure checked at least every five years, so don’t hesitate.

This article was originally published in December 2017

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