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Blood Pressure the Silent Killer

Blood pressure kept under control is key to staying healthy, but the majority of us choose to ignore it.

Do you know your blood pressure numbers? If the answer’s no, you’re not alone. Research has found that one in five of us are unaware of our vital readings, with an estimated seven million people, in the UK alone, living with untreated or undiagnosed hypertension (high blood pressure).

While blood pressure doesn’t hit the headlines in the same way as cancer or diabetes, not knowing if you’re at risk is a serious concern. Why? High blood pressure is usually symptom-free until it starts to cause damage, dubbing it the “silent killer”. Not only does it cost governments billions per year, but you could be at risk of associated issues, such as heart problems, strokes and damage to other vital organs all without you knowing it. Plus, new evidence from scientists in Chicago has linked high blood pressure to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Given the importance of blood pressure as an indicator of overall health, it’s shocking how few people prioritise taking their readings,” say doctors. A quick test (using a cuff around your arm, which will puff up to apply pressure) will reveal your score. The ideal reading is 120/80mmHg, but if it’s l40/90mmHg or above, it’s considered high and will need to be assessed, as it can put your arteries and heart under huge strain.

The only way that blood pressure readings will come into the mainstream would be to make people aware of the importance of heart health from an early age, such as introducing blood pressure readings at school, say healthcare professionals. Then the 120/80 reading could become common knowledge in the same way that five fruit and vegetables a day has become a mantra that everyone understands.

If you’re aged between 40-74 years, a test will be included in your health check, or you can use an at-home monitor. Just look out for a stamp to indicate it’s been validated by an authority, or the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.

Take Back Control

Unfortunately, knowing your numbers is just the start and in a new study, only 13% of people recently tested had healthy blood pressure levels. However, the good news is, small changes can make a big difference to get you back to the safe zone.

Once you know how to check your blood pressure, the next step is to try and develop an understanding of trends over time, say experts. If you can identify when there are peaks in your blood pressure, you can understand positive and negative lifestyle choices that impact your heart health. Many factors affect hypertension, from diet to stress to medication. So, even if you think you are being healthy, your numbers could be saying otherwise.

Interestingly, 88% of Brits who tested for high blood pressure were non-smokers, while only 31% of those with high blood pressure were obese. This is why it’s so important to have regular check-ups, at least once every few years, whether you think you are at risk or not.

Stay in the Safe Zone

Around 10% of hypertension is secondary to other factors, such as kidney disease, hormone disorders, medicines, alcohol or amphetamines, but in most cases the cause isn’t known. In a recent study, 53% of those with high blood pressure had no family history of the condition. So following a balanced lifestyle is key.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight, with your BMI between 18.5 – 24.9.
  2. Eat less sugar and salt.
  3. Cut down on alcohol, or quit completely.
  4. Don’t smoke.
  5. Take at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. If you do have high blood pressure, avoid HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which raises the heart rate too quickly. Power walking is beneficial.
  6. De-stress with relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness.

What Test to Expect

Think you’re at risk? Your GP will be concerned if your reading is 140/90mmHg or higher, but it varies from person to person and can fluctuate, so you will have this re-checked several times at different points throughout the day.

The Medication

If your readings are consistently high, but your risk of other problems are low, you will be advised to make changes to your lifestyle first. Other people will need to take a combination of different medicines, depending on age and ethnicity. For example, those under 55 years of age will usually be offered an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin II receptor blocker (ARB). Aged 55 or older (or if you’re any age and of African or Caribbean origin), you’ll usually be offered a calcium channel blocker. Other medications include diuretics and beta blockers.

The Side Effects

Most people don’t experience side effects, while others do but find they wear off. These can include a dry cough, feeling dizzy, a rash, upset stomach, headache, flu-like symptoms, slow heartbeat, swelling of the hands and feet and weight gain. See your GP, as taking two or more medicines at lower doses may be as effective as one medicine at a higher dose and would be less likely to cause side effects.

The Future

Sadly, some people will take this medication for the rest of their life. However, your GP will review it over time and may be able to reduce or stop treatment if your blood pressure stays consistent.

Are You Too Low

On the other end of the scale, if your BP falls below 90/60mmHg, it’s considered low. It means less blood is pumped around the body with every heartbeat. Some people naturally have low blood pressure, which usually isn’t a cause for concern, but dizziness is a common symptom, as is feeling breathless, while some people feel temporarily light-headed when they stand up. Sound familiar? See your GP for a blood test to determine the cause.

Say ‘See Ya‘ to Stress

Stress can trigger high blood pressure,warn doctors. High cortisol levels prepare you for your fight-or-flight response and your body assumes that it needs a higher blood pressure to cope with this. It holds back sodium and this salinates the blood. It is the equivalent of overdosing on salt, which we know is linked to high blood pressure.

Eat Right to Lower Levels

These have all been found to help keep your numbers level

  1. BEETROOT Researchers at Queen Mary University, London, found that a daily 250ml glass of beetroot juice lowers blood pressure levels, thanks to its dietary nitrate.
  2. DARK CHOCOLATE A joint study in Italy and Switzerland confirmed that flavonoids in cocoa products (at least 70%) boost blood flow and circulation.
  3. OILY FISH It contains the specific omega-3 fatty acid DHA, shown to lower blood pressure by reducing inflammation in the body.
  4. HIBISCUS TEA Hibiscus may help lower blood pressure by stopping blood vessels from being too narrow, say nutritionist.
  5. OFFAL Liver, kidneys and heart contain high levels of CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant that helps improve elasticity of artery walls. 

E339 – Blood Pressure the Silent Killer –

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