Hypertension/High Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure means literally the pressure of blood in the arteries of the body. It is usually measured as two numbers. The first one is always higher than the second one. This is because the first number given is always the measurement of the pressure of blood in the arteries when blood is pumped out of the heart. The arteries take the blood from the heart to the organs and tissues of the body. They have to be able to cope with the extra blood temporarily pushed out of the heart until the heart fills up again. As a result, there is a temporary surge or rise in pressure. This exists only until the heart refills itself from the blood supply brought back to it by the body’s main vein. The arteries of the body have to be able to withstand this rise in pressure every time the heart beats. The first number is called the systolic pressure. The second, lower, number is simply the lowest pressure of blood in the arteries when the heart is refilling, releasing the extra pressure, allowing blood to move through the arteries and veins back into the other side of the heart before it is pushed out again. This number is therefore always lower. It is known as the diastolic pressure.

What is normal blood pressure?

Like most things normal can vary quite a lot. Children have lower blood pressure than younger adults, who usually have lower blood pressure than older adults. Average adult blood pressure measured in mm/hg (millimetres ofmercury) is about 120/70 mm/hg. The systolic pressure as the heart contracts and pushes blood out into the arteries is 120 mm/hg, the diastolic blood pressure as the heart refills from blood brought back to it by the veins is 70 mm/hg. However, this can vary on how fit you are (top class athletes have low blood pressure) or how well you are: people with kidney disease often have high blood pressure, no matter how old they are.

What is the connection between the kidneys and blood pressure?

The kidneys are important in the control of blood pressure and are very sensitive to changes in blood pressure, particularly where they are already damaged. If the kidneys are damaged e.g. by infection or inflammation, they are not able to help the body to control blood pressure. Normally, they do this by removing excess fluid from the blood. If the excess fluid is not taken out by the kidneys, and stays in the blood, it leads to raised blood pressure. In turn, the raised blood pressure will cause further damage to the delicate filters of the kidney that remove the water. Kidney failure may result. Damage may also occur if there is not enough blood flowing through the kidney. But there are other causes of high blood pressure. If these are not controlled, healthy kidneys can be damaged. In fact, high blood pressure is the second most important cause of end-stage renal failure.

Who gets high blood pressure?

Hypertension is more common in women than men. However, men seem to cope with it worse. It is associated with obesity, smoking and high blood fat levels. People of Afro-Caribbean ethnic origin are more likely to have high blood pressure. How do you know if you have high blood pressure? Most people have no symptoms. They find out only when their blood pressure is checked. Your blood pressure is considered high if it goes over 140/90 mm/ hg. A one-off reading is not enough to confirm high blood pressure. The sight of a doctor is enough to give some people high blood pressure without any real cause. It needs to be consistently raised over a series of readings. What is the treatment for high blood pressure? Treating hypertension depends on the cause. There are several groups of drugs that are used. These include: ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, diuretics and beta- blockers. You can talk to your GP, hospital doctor or pharmacist, or local chemist about these medications.

What can I do to control my blood pressure?

There are four key steps that anyone can take to help control their blood pressure:

  • Control your weight
  • Limit the amount of salt you use in your diet or add to your food at mealtimes
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol

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