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High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure rarely has obvious symptoms.

Blood PressureAround 30-40% of people in Ireland have high blood pressure but many don’t know it. If left untreated, high blood pressure increases your risk of a heart attack, stroke vascular disease. dementia and kidney failure.

The only way of knowing there is a problem is to have your blood pressure measured. However, this may vary throughout the day and night and is your readings are borderline it may be wise to get a 24hr blood pressure monitor to ensure your readings both during night and day are in target. 

All adults over 35 should have their blood pressure checked at least every year. If you haven’t had yours measured, or you don’t know what your blood pressure reading is, ask your GP/practice nurse to check it for you.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries (large blood vessels) as it is pumped around your body by your heart. If this pressure is too high it puts a strain on your arteries and your heart, which makes it more likely that you will suffer a heart attack, a stroke or kidney disease.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (which is written as mmHg) and it is recorded as two figures:

1. systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart beats to pump blood out
2. diastolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart rests in between beats

For example, if your GP says your blood pressure is ‘140 over 90’, or 140/90mmHg, it means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.

You are said to have high blood pressure (medically known as hypertension) if readings on separate occasions consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90mmHg or higher.

A blood pressure reading below 130/80mmHg is considered to be normal.

Who is most at risk?

Your chances of having high blood pressure increase as you get older. There is often no clear cause of high blood pressure but you are at increased risk if you:

  • are overweight
  • have a relative with high blood pressure
  • are of African or Caribbean descent
  • eat a lot of salt
  • don’t eat many fruit and vegetables
  • don’t take enough exercise
  • drink a lot of alcohol

If you fall into any of the groups listed above, you should consider making changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk of high blood pressure. You should also consider having your blood pressure checked more often, ideally once a year especially if you are over 60 years of age.

Prevention and treatment

You can take effective steps to prevent high blood pressure by:

  • losing weight if you need to (your bp can fall 7mmhg for every 1 kg  of weight lost)
    exercising regularly
  • eating a healthy diet, with increased vegetable intake.
  • cutting back if you drink a lot of alcohol
  • stopping smoking
  • cutting down on salt and caffeine

Find out more about how to prevent high blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is found to be high, it will need to be closely monitored until it is brought under control. Your doctor will usually suggest changes to your lifestyle but will also usually have to prescribe medication to achieve this. Find out more about how blood pressure is treated.

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