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 (mmHg) and it is recorded as two figures: systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart beats to pump blood out 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 enough fruit and vegetables don't do enough exercise drink a lot of coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks) drink a lot of alcohol are aged over 65
Prevention and treatment
You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure by: losing weight if you need to exercising regularly eating a healthy diet cutting back if you drink a lot of alcohol stopping smoking cutting down on salt and caffeine
In over 90% of cases, the cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) is unknown but several factors can increase your risk of developing the condition.
Where there is no specific cause, high blood pressure is referred to by doctors as primary high blood pressure (or essential high blood pressure).
Factors that can raise your risk of developing primary high blood pressure include: age: the risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you get older a family history of high blood pressure (the condition seems to run in families) being of African or Caribbean origin a high amount of salt in your food a lack of exercise being overweight smoking drinking large amounts of alcohol stress Known causes
About 10% of high blood pressure cases are the result of an underlying condition or cause. These cases are referred to as secondary high blood pressure.
Common causes of secondary high blood pressure include: kidney disease diabetes narrowing of the arteries (large blood vessels) supplying the kidneys hormonal conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome (a condition where your body produces an excess of steroid hormones) conditions that affect the body’s tissue, such as lupus oral contraceptive pill painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen recreational drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and crystal methamphetamine herbal remedies, such as herbal supplements
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) is to have your blood pressure checked.
This can be done by your GP or another healthcare professional, and you can also check it yourself with a home testing kit.
Healthy adults aged over 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years.
If you are at an increased risk of high blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked more often, ideally once a year.
Getting checked by your GP
Blood pressure checks are usually available on request at most GP surgeries and health clinics.
Blood pressure is often measured using a sphygmomanometer, a device which consists of a stethoscope, arm cuff, dial, pump and valve.
The cuff is placed around your arm and pumped up to