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 says that 1 in 4 adults has hypertension, although many won’t even realise it.
According to the British Heart Foundation, seven million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed hypertension. The only way to find out whether you have high blood pressure is to have your readings taken by a nurse or doctor.
You may have already seen our guide to the 20 most common medical conditions that affect older people. Today’s article focuses specifically on hypertension, including the causes, symptoms and common treatments.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is a long-term health condition where pressure in your blood vessels is constantly too high. The pressure of the blood inside your body changes as your heart beats. It’s at its highest when your heart is contracting and at its lowest when the heart relaxes and fills with blood.
The British Heart Foundation defines hypertension as follows:
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 your systolic blood pressure. This represents the force with which your heart pumps blood around your body. The bottom number is your diastolic number, which represents the resistance of the blood flow in the blood vessels.
NHS guidelines 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.
These are only general guidelines. Older people tend to have higher blood pressure in general, 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 signs of high blood pressure are rare. Most people only notice symptoms of hypertension when their blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. This is known as hypertensive crisis. Symptoms of hypertensive crisis include severe headaches, anxiety, chest pain, nosebleeds, and irregular heartbeat.
These symptoms require emergency treatment.
The exact causes of hypertension are unknown. However, we do know that hypertension is more common in older people than younger people. It is also seen more frequently in people of African and Caribbean descent. Genetics and family history can play a role too.
Overall, there are many different factors that contribute to high blood pressure. The following behaviours play a big part in the development of hypertension:
- 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 or conditions like kidney disease and thyroid disorders are also more likely to have high blood pressure.
Your heart has to work much harder as your blood pressure rises. This stronger force of blood can damage your arteries, blood vessels, and heart, leading to a reduced blood flow in the body. This increases your risk of heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, and other serious medical issues.
However, there are lots of ways to treat and manage high blood pressure. Making simple changes to your lifestyle can have a huge effect.
Consider your diet
Salt is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to high blood pressure, so avoid adding extra salt to your food. You should also check food packaging for hidden salt content, which accounts for around 75% of the salt we consume. Other tips for avoiding high levels of salt include:
- Flavouring your food with other things, such as pepper, garlic, herbs, spices, or lemon juice.
- Avoid saltier foods like bacon, or choose low-salt options where possible.
- Always taste your food before adding salt to it. In all likelihood, it will taste fine without!
Additionally, try and avoid foods high in saturated fat and sugar. Instead, replace them with healthier fruit, vegetables, and unprocessed 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. In order to combat this, slowly add more exercise to your day. Start with a 15 minute walk and then increase that time in small increments. Eventually, you could walk for an hour a day, then move on to a jog if you can! However, if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should consult your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Cut out cigarettes
We all know that smoking is incredibly harmful to health. 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. If you are a smoker, there’s never been a better time to quit. Read our stop smoking guide here.
Besides these lifestyle changes, your doctor can prescribe medications to help manage your blood pressure. Most people will need to take a combination of different medicines, often depending on age and ethnicity.
If you’re under 55, you will commonly be offered an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin-2 receptor blocker. If you’re aged 55 or over, or if you’re of African or Caribbean origin, you will usually be offered a calcium channel blocker.
Combined with the right lifestyle changes, these drugs can be very effective in lowering high blood pressure.
Checking Your Blood Pressure
You will need a blood pressure test to find out whether you have hypertension. The NHS recommends that all adults over 40 have a blood pressure test at least every five years. This is quick, easy, and potentially life-saving. 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 on your Lifeline alarm. This means that customers with hypertension will pay no VAT whatsoever on their new alarm system. For more information on VAT Exemption and the conditions that make you eligible, read our detailed guide here.
Stay Safe at Home
Our personal alarm service is ideal for people who suffer from a medical condition such as hypertension. If you have a fall at home, you simply press the red button on your pendant. Our 24-hour Response Team will respond straight away, assessing your situation and sending help immediately.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on 14 August 2020 to reflect current information.