BLOOD PRESSURE FAQ
With Dr Alex John
What is blood pressure?
Our body regulates its fluid volume via a control system which is called the renal-body fluid system. As the amount of fluid in our body goes up, pressure rises, and the kidney excretes more fluid.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure (or to use the medical term ‘Hypertension’) occurs when the pressure of fluid in the body is elevated for some reason.
Hypertension is the most important risk factor leading to vascular disease and premature death (aside from increasing age).
The proper management of hypertension is far more important than that of cholesterol. Yet it is going under-diagnosed and under-treated in our society.
Is high blood pressure or hypertension dangerous?
Hypertension may cause damage to all organs in the body; lethal effects include:
- Excess work for the heart leading to heart failure and coronary artery disease.
- The high blood pressure can rupture blood vessels anywhere in the body (e.g., the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain is a stroke).
- Haemorrhage in the kidney leading to renal failure.
- Haemorrhage in our eyes causing blindness
People are usually unaware that their blood pressure is high (they are ‘asymptomatic’, that is have no symptoms). Consequently, hypertension acts as a silent killer.
If blood pressure is extremely high it can cause symptoms like headaches.
Since blood pressure readings vary over the course of the day, it is not possible to rely on a single reading to decide if the trend is high. Your GP may ask you to record blood pressure readings over a week or that you even perform a continuous 24hr-reading programme, where a monitoring machine is attached to your body for a whole day.
If your average blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg, then your GP will complete a more detailed risk assessment to decide whether or not to prescribe medication.
What causes high blood pressure or hypertension?
95% of people have essential hypertension (which means that we don’t know for sure why it happens).
- High salt diet
- Renal disease
- Drugs (like the contraceptive pill, cocaine/amphetamines, certain antidepressants and steroids)
- Rare causes like liquorice (!)
What is the treatment for high blood pressure or hypertension?
As lifestyle factors cause hypertension accordingly lifestyle adjustment is an important facet of treatment: stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, adopting a low-salt diet, exercising and reducing weight are all important. Also, in most cases medication is prescribed. It is normal to require more than one type of medicine to control blood pressure.
The big take home message is that people should seek regular screening and (if necessary) treatment. Diagnosing and treating blood pressure saves lives and preserves quality of life.
Get yours checked today.
More information can be found at…
Ian Wilkinson et al, 2017. The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Arthur Guyton and John Hall, 1984. Textbook of Medical Physiology. London: W.B. Saunders Company.