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What are the causes and symptoms of high blood pressure?

If you’ve experienced severe chest pain, irregular heartbeats or difficulty breathing, you could be suffering from high blood pressure and should be seen by a medical practitioner.

There are several factors that can increase the risk of high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). These can range from smoking and obesity to stress and a lack of exercise. Hypertension affects more than one in four adults in the UK and the British Heart Foundation estimates that up to five million people are left undiagnosed.

While symptoms of high blood pressure/hypertension can be non-existent in some cases, in others, sufferers may experience:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in the chest, neck or ears
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Severe headaches
  • Severe chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Difficulty breathing

If you think you’re experiencing any of the effects of high blood pressure and are concerned about your health, you should speak to your GP.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

If you’ve ever paid a visit to the doctors for a routine check-up, you will almost certainly have had your blood pressure taken. Using an instrument called a sphygmomanometer, medical professionals measure the force at which blood pushes through the arteries.

High blood pressure readings occur when the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels is consistently too ‘high’. This can restrict the level of oxygen carried around the body, and in the worst case scenario, may result in these high blood pressure symptoms:

  • Coma
  • Strokes
  • Heart failure
  • Angina
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Heart attack
  • Aneurysm
  • Eclampsia (during pregnancy)

Measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), blood pressure readings are recorded as one measurement ‘over’ another. The systolic (top) number indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart is beating. This is followed by the diastolic (bottom) number which indicates the pressure while the heart is resting in-between beats.

Experts consider normal blood pressure to be less than 120/80mmHg. Pre-hypertension (early stages of high blood pressure) is considered to be a reading of 120-139/80-89mmHg, while some experts consider low blood pressure to show readings less than 90mmHg systolic and 60mmHg diastolic.

If your blood pressure is a cause for concern, your doctor may ask for 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM). This is when your blood pressure is measured as you go about your daily life, normally over a 24 hour period. This can give a more accurate view of how your blood pressure changes throughout the day.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Most people with high blood pressure are diagnosed with primary hypertension – a class of high blood pressure that doesn’t have a known secondary cause. People who have an underlying medical condition are diagnosed with secondary hypertension.

The causes of high blood pressure can be hard to pinpoint, as many sufferers don’t suffer from any symptoms. That being said, there are lifestyle factors that can increase your risk, particularly:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating too much salt
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not doing enough exercise
  • Not eating a nutritious diet of fruits and vegetables
  • A generally unhealthy diet
  • Smoking
  • Stress

The causes of high blood pressure can be wide and varied. If you’re worried that any of the above factors are causing direct damage to your body, you should visit your GP. Likewise, if you are concerned about low blood pressure symptoms, make sure to seek medical guidance.

How to Reduce Blood Pressure

While blood pressure may be controlled with medication from your GP, there are a number of lifestyle changes that can ease the pressure on your heart. By finding the root cause of increased blood pressure, you may be able to improve your health without the need for medication. However, always make sure to speak to your GP before drastically changing your lifestyle or starting a new fitness regime.

  • How to reduce high blood pressure:
  • Reduce body mass and control your weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Reduce the level of sodium in your diet
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Quit smoking
  • Monitor your blood pressure regularly
  • Reduce your caffeine intake

Physical activity not only helps to control your blood pressure, it also helps you manage your weight and reduce stress. Regular exercise helps your heart muscles become more efficient, allowing it to pump blood throughout the body without straining. Quitting smoking and reducing your caffeine intake will also allow your heart to beat slower and keep your blood pressure under control.

High blood pressure diets are those which include a high-fat intake and high levels of alcohol consumption. Foods that lower blood pressure include those that are low in sodium and rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, particularly:

  • Flaxseeds
  • Olive oil
  • Pistachios
  • Pomegranates
  • Fatty fish
  • Whole grains
  • Leafy greens