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How to tackle high blood pressure


Keep On Moving: Exercise can help you beat hypertension (Image: Getty)

When did you last have your blood pressure checked? If you’re over 40, you should have a free test at least every five years, but younger people can also be affected too.

Around 12 million people in England are living with high blood pressure – also known as hypertension – but because there are no symptoms, a third of them are undiagnosed. It’s not something you should ignore, though, since it’s one of the main causes of heart attacks and strokes.

“If you can look at all the factors we can measure – smoking, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol – blood pressure is the biggest killer of the lot,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of Blood Pressure UK.

“It has no symptoms and there are large numbers of people walking around with high blood pressure and not knowing it. They’re the ones who are really at risk – we know if you can seek out these people and get their blood pressure measured over a period of time, they benefit remarkably from lowering with drugs and lifestyle measures.

“Treatment is very successful. But you have to get it measured – people associate high blood pressure with being red faced or having headaches, but that’s not the case.”

Keep Motivated: Putting your wellbeing first lowers risks

Keep Motivated: Putting your wellbeing first lowers risks (Image: Getty)

You can get your blood pressure tested at many pharmacies, your GP surgery and in some workplaces. You can also check it at home with a monitor.

The ideal blood pressure range is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If you’re over 80, anything below 150/90mmHg (145/85mmHg if measured at home) is fine.

If you do find that your blood pressure is running high, there are lots of things you can do to reduce it, including losing weight, doing more exercise and minimising stress.

Dietary changes can help too, so cut down on salt, alcohol and caffeine, and eat more fruit and vegetables. Your doctor might also prescribe medication.

“Treatment, if done properly with medication and lifestyle factors, is very effective in lowering blood pressure,” says Professor MacGregor. “Probably the best preventive trials in the world are for blood pressure – they help prevent strokes, heart failure and heart attacks.

“If your blood pressure is raised, you’re at risk; if you lower it, you’re no longer at risk. It’s as simple as that.”

‘It’s so easy to get it checked’

Changing Habits: Nikita has learnt to manage her blood pressure

Changing Habits: Nikita has learnt to manage her blood pressure (Image: )

Nikita McCormack was shocked to get a high blood pressure reading after having a child Nikita McCormack’s blood pressure had always been normal, but she ran into problems after having her daughter 10 years ago.

“I’ve had it checked regularly due to being on the Pill, and after I gave birth to my daughter it started to skyrocket,” says the 42-year-old from Harlow, Essex.

“Not just a little – it was in the red. The top number was over 200 and the lower one was going up to over 95.”

“They took me into hospital, and it was controlled and went back to normal for a while. Then when I was 35 it shot up again. I monitored it for a while, and when it didn’t improve I was prescribed medication.”

At first, Nikita was worried about being on medication at such a young age. “I thought, I’m so healthy, how can this happen to me?’ But my mum was on medication for high blood pressure from her thirties and was quite blasé about it, so that helped. She’s text-book healthy too – so it just shows it can happen to anyone.”

“It could be going through the roof and you would never know”

Nikita suspects her high blood pressure was triggered by stress. The mum of two runs a casting site for models and a photographic studio. During lockdown she found that she was more relaxed, but when she went back to work the stress built up again.

“I have tried to control my stress – although I haven’t really got the patience,” she says. “But I do workouts every day and a hell of lot of walking. I eat all the right sort of foods, and I’m a good weight. Caffeine also makes my blood pressure skyrocket so I avoid that too.

“If anything, I’m a classic example where you shouldn’t presume your blood pressure is fine because you’re healthy and go to the gym. It could be going through the roof and you’d never know. I don’t look like I suffer from hypertension.

“Seven years on, my blood pressure is under control. It’s so easy to get it checked – at my GP surgery, there’s a self-service machine and I’ve got a machine at home. I check it regularly and I check my husband too.”

“It could be going through the roof and you would never know”

Lifestyle tweaks to lower your blood pressure

  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce stress
  • Cut down on salt
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise more
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables
  • Drink less alcohol and caffeine drinks
  • Get enough undisturbed sleep

‘I’ve completely overhauled my lifestyle’

Clean Slate: Sean is now taking better care of his health

Clean Slate: Sean is now taking better care of his health (Image: Andrew Lunn)

Addiction put a strain on Sean Alexander’s life – and blood pressure. But he’s turned it around.

The only indication Sean Alexander had of high blood pressure was a persistent “squiggle” in his vision. He went to an optician to get it checked out – and was sent straight to A&E.

“That was back in 2016. They did tests and saw that it was high blood pressure,” says the 36-year-old from south-west London. “It wasn’t the biggest surprise because I was doing a lot of drinking and a lot of coke at the time.”

Lifestyle changes can help to lower blood pressure, but that wasn’t easy for Sean.

“Most people would make an effort to change their habits, but I was at the height of my addictions, so I carried on doing what I was doing, despite knowing the risks. I probably had high cholesterol at the time too, and those two factors combined are stroke and heart attack risks.”

“Now I try to manage stress, eat well and exercise a lot”

Doctors prescribed medication and regular checks, but, Sean admits, “There were a lot of other things going on in my life, so I didn’t take it that seriously. I think that was because I didn’t have symptoms apart from the squiggle in my eye. And when l read up on all the health problems with high blood pressure, it wasn’t enough to put me off doing what I was doing in terms of drink and drugs and eating unhealthily.

“Now I’m a lot healthier. I have a bit of a car crash story – I lost everything to addiction. But it was the best thing that could have happened to me, as it gave me a clean slate to start over again. I haven’t drunk or taken drugs in over five years.

Before, I was a financial adviser in London. I’ve since retrained as a counsellor and a strength and conditioning coach. I’ve also written a book to help other people through the various stages of giving up alcohol and drugs, and I’ve got a new one coming out in May.

“These days I try to manage stress as much as I can, eat well and exercise a lot – a complete lifestyle change.”

Sean’s blood pressure is still monitored regularly and he’s glad he went for that eye test all those years ago.

“Until something bad happens, you don’t really know or feel anything from high blood pressure,” he says. “I look out for my own health now; before, I wouldn’t have taken anything seriously.”

Use the NHS App to access health services

Download the app or visit nhs.uk

Download the NHS App – it’s your gateway to the services you need. You can order repeat prescriptions and have them sent to your pharmacy, as well as view your health information securely. Just go to the Apple App Store or Google Play and search “NHS App”, then install it.

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