High blood pressure affects around 1 in 3 adults in the UK. In England alone, 31% of men and 26% of women have the condition. Around half of all people with the condition haven’t been diagnosed and aren’t receiving treatment for it. This equates to more than 5 million people.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at why high blood pressure is so serious, and what we can do to combat the growing problem.

1. What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of force that your heart uses to pump blood around the body. We use two numbers to represent it:

Systolic – the pressure when your heart is actually pumping the blood around the body.
Diastolic – the pressure when your heart is resting in between beats.

We measure blood pressure as a systolic score followed by (“over”) a diastolic score. For example, this might look like “120 over 80” or “120/80mmHg”. Here, mmHg means ‘millimetres of mercury’, which is the medical way of representing your score.

Everybody has a blood pressure score, and there are pretty good guidelines on what constitutes an ideal score and non-ideal scores. You can get a test to find out your score. Presently, there are no other ways to know if you have high blood pressure.

2. What is High Blood Pressure?

According to the the NHS, the ideal blood pressure score is between 90/60 and 120/80. Up to 140/90 and doctors consider your score as ‘high-ideal’. In other words, it’s not yet classed as hypertension (high blood pressure), but it’s creeping up.

It’s worth noting that we’ll all go through short periods of high pressure, brought about by external factors. For example, if you’re feeling particularly nervous, anxious, stressed or angry, these emotions can all cause your pressure to spike temporarily. It’s part of the fight or flight response, getting us ready to take physical action if needed.

Things start to get dangerous when your resting pressure, without any stressors, is classed as high.

3. What causes High Blood Pressure?

There are several key factors which can cause this serious condition. Some we’re in control of and some we can do nothing about.

Risk factors we can change:

  • Being overweight.
  • Eating too much salt.
  • Not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
  • Not getting enough exercise.
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine-based drinks.
  • Smoking.
  • Not getting enough sleep (or having disturbed sleep).

Risk factors we can’t change:

  • Being over 65.
  • Having a relative with the condition.
  • Being of black African or black Caribbean descent.
  • Living in a deprived area.

There are lots of different biological reasons for the above but, in brief, these risk factors make your heart, veins and arteries all work harder, wearing them out quicker.

Speaking of which…

4. What are the risks?

A simple, if somewhat crude, way of thinking about your cardiovascular system is like the plumbing in a house; the higher the pressure in the pipes, the more likely it is that things will go wrong, such as springing a leak.

Much like a plumbing system, with high blood pressure, there are usually no symptoms until something has gone wrong. This is why we call it ‘the silent killer’.

According to the NHS, the condition can cause the following potentially life-threatening conditions:

  • Heart disease.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Strokes.
  • Heart failure.
  • Peripheral arterial disease.
  • Aortic aneurysms.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Vascular dementia.

The best way to reduce these risks is to reduce your blood pressure.

5. How can I reduce Blood Pressure?

In simple terms, you can reduce your blood pressure by working on the risk factors from point 3 above. This means you should:

  • Reduce the amount of salt you eat.
  • Have a generally healthy diet.
  • Cut back on alcohol.
  • Lose weight (if you’re overweight).
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Cut down on caffeine.
  • Stop smoking.

Obviously, there’s nothing you can do about the risk factors that can’t be changed. As a result, some people will simply need to manage their condition through medication prescribed by a doctor.

Bonus: Getting tested

You can test your pressure in a variety of ways, including:

  • Visit your GP for a test.
  • Get tested as part of the over-45 NHS Health Check.
  • Visit a pharmacy or private clinic.
  • Buy an at-home monitor.
  • Book a workplace health check.

We may be biased, but we believe that a workplace health check is the best option for getting a test.

We spend most of our days at work, so why travel for a test?

Taking time out to go for a test can be a hassle, and appointments can be very limited.

As part of a New Leaf Health Check, you can not only find out your blood pressure but a whole range of other key health stats too.

Interest in a Health Check for your workplace? Get in touch for more information.