What Is High Blood Pressure?

High Blood Pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure is a risk factor that can increase your chance of developing heart disease, a stroke, and other serious conditions. As a rule, the higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk. Treatment includes a change in lifestyle risk factors where these can be improved – losing weight if you are overweight, regular physical activity, a healthy diet, cutting back if you drink a lot of alcohol, stopping smoking, and a low salt and caffeine intake. If needed, medication can lower blood pressure.                       References

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). Your blood pressure is recorded as two figures. For example, 150/95 mm Hg. This is said as 150 over 95.

  • The top (first) number is the systolic pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts.
  • The bottom (second) number is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between each heartbeat.

Some Definitions and Phrases

Clinic blood pressure readings: these are readings taken by a doctor or nurse in a clinic or GP surgery using a standard blood pressure machine.

Home blood pressure readings: these are readings taken by a person whilst seated and at rest at home using a standard blood pressure machine.

Ambulatory blood pressure readings: these are readings taken at regular intervals whilst you go about your normal activities. A small machine that is attached to your arm takes and records the readings. 

As a rule, an average of the ambulatory blood pressure readings give the most true account of your usual blood pressure.

Home blood pressure readings are a good substitute if an ambulatory machine is not available. Ambulatory and home readings are often a bit lower than clinic readings. Sometimes they are a lot lower. This is because people are often much more relaxed and less stressed at home than in a formal clinic or surgery situation.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is a blood pressure that is 140/90 mm Hg or above each time it is taken. That is, it is sustained at this level. High blood pressure can be:

  • Just a high systolic pressure – for example, 170/70 mm Hg.
  • Just a high diastolic pressure – for example, 120/104 mm Hg.
  • Or both – for example, 170/110 mm Hg.

However, it is not quite as simple as this. Depending on various factors, the level at which blood pressure is considered high enough to be treated with medication can vary from person to person. If your blood pressure is always 140/90 mm Hg or above you will normally be offered treatment to bring the pressure down, particularly if you have:

  • A high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases or
  • An existing cardiovascular disease (see below); or
  • Diabetes; or
  • Damage to the heart or kidney (organ damage) due to high blood pressure.

Treatment to lower your blood pressure if it is 130/80 mm Hg or higher may be considered if you:

  • Have developed a complication of diabetes, especially kidney problems.
  • Have had a serious cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
  • Have certain chronic (ongoing) kidney diseases.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

A one-off blood pressure reading that is high does not mean that you have ‘high blood pressure’. Your blood pressure varies throughout the day. It may be high for a short time if you are anxious, stressed, or have just been exercising. You have high blood pressure (hypertension) if you have several blood pressure readings that are high, and which are taken on different occasions, and when you are relaxed.

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