High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly one billion people around the world and around 16 million people in the UK. The NHS say that one in four adults have hypertension, although many won’t even realise it.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) , there are as many as seven million people in the UK who are living with undiagnosed hypertension. The only way to find out whether or not you have high blood pressure is to have their readings taken by a nurse of doctor.
You may have already seen our guide to the 15 most common medical conditions that affect older people. Today’s article focuses solely on hypertension, including the causes, symptoms and treatments available.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is a long term health condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is constantly elevated.The pressure of the blood inside your body changes as your heart beats, and is at its highest when your heart is contracting and pumping blood around your body. It’s at its lowest whilst the heart relaxes and fills with blood.
The BHF define hypertension in the following way:
High blood pressure – or hypertension – means that your blood pressure is consistently higher than the recommended level. High blood pressure is not usually something that you can feel or notice, but over time if it is not treated, your heart may become enlarged making your heart pump less effectively. This can lead to heart failure.”
Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers. The top number is is your systolic blood pressure which measures the force your heart pumps blood around your body. The bottom number is your diastolic number which measures the resistance of the blood flow in the blood vessels.
Guidelines provided by the NHS state that:
- High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher.
- Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
- Low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower.
This should only be seen as a general guideline. Older people typically have a higher blood pressure so their ‘normal’ blood pressure is different. If you are worried about your own blood pressure, consult your GP.
What are the signs of hypertension?
Unfortunately noticeable symptoms of high blood pressure are rare. Normally, the only time someone will notice symptoms of hypertension will be when the blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. This is known as hypertensive crisis and symptoms for this include severe headaches and anxiety, chest pain, nosebleeds and irregular heartbeat.
These symptoms require emergency treatment.
The exact cause of hypertension is unknown. Hypertension is more common in older people than younger people and in people of African and South Asian descent due to a number of different health factors. Genetics and family history can also play a role in whether a person will develop high blood pressure or not.
However, there are many different contributing causes of high blood pressure. Lifestyle choices can play a big part in the development of hypertension, including:
- Being overweight.
- A lack of exercise.
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Eating too much salt.
- Not eating enough vegetables and fruit.
- A lack of sleep.
People who suffer from stress and conditions such as kidney disease and thyroid disorders are also more likely to have a higher blood pressure.
Your heart has to work much harder as your blood pressure rises. This stronger force of blood can damage you arteries, blood vessels and heart muscle, leading to a reduced blood flow in the body. This leads to an increased risk of heart attacks and failure, strokes, kidney damage, vascular dementia and eye damage.
However, there are lots of ways to treat and manage blood pressure. Making simple changes to your lifestyle can have a huge effect on your blood pressure.
Consider your diet
Eating too much salt is often a contributing factor to high blood pressure so try and avoid adding salt to food and check food packaging for hidden salt content. Other tips on how to avoid high levels of salt include:
- Choose reduced-salt un-smoked bacon.
- Avoid eating cured meats and fish on a regular basis.
- Choose tomato-based pasta sauces, rather than ready-made options.
Try and avoid foods high in saturated fat and sugar and replace them with healthier fruit, vegetables and natural foods. Include more complex carbohydrates (brown rice and whole-wheat bread and pasta), lean meats and legumes in your meals to replace processed foods.
Become a more active person
A sedentary lifestyle is also dangerous for the blood pressure. Slowly add more exercise to your day. Start with a 15 minute walk and up the amount of time outside in small increments so that you could even end up walking for an hour a day. Then move on to a jog if you can! However, if you have high blood pressure, it is advisable to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Cut out cigarettes
The nicotine in cigarette smoke raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows and hardens your arteries and makes you more prone to blood clots.
As well as these lifestyle factors, blood pressure can be managed using drugs and medications prescribed by your doctor. Most people will be required to take a combination of different medicines, and the ones recommended to you will vary depending on your age and ethnicity.
If you’re under 55-years-old, you will commonly be offered an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin-2 receptor blocker. If you’re aged 55 and over, or if you’re of African or Caribbean origin, you will usually be offered a calcium channel blocker.
It’s essential that you take your medications as directed, in order to them to be as effective as possible. Using drugs combined with the lifestyle changes can really impact your blood pressure and begin to bring it down.
Checking your blood pressure
To find out your blood pressure, you will need to have a blood pressure test. The NHS recommendation is that all adults over 40 get their blood pressure checked at least every five years. This is quick and easy but could potentially save lives. You can get yours checked at your GP surgery. Some pharmacies and workplaces also offer the tests.
If you find that you have pre-hypertension or high blood pressure, you may need to check your blood pressure more regularly. You can do this yourself at home using a manual or automatic blood pressure machine. Your GP will be able to advise the most suitable device for you.
Hypertension is a condition which qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system. HMRC state that a product which has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
To qualify for VAT Exemption, you need to have a long-term illness, a terminal illness or a disability.
Stay Safe at Home
Our personal alarm service is ideal for people who suffer from a medical condition such as hypertension. If you do suffer from a fall at home, you simply press the red button on your pendant and our 24-hour Care Team will respond.