Many of us lead hectic lifestyles and maintain bad health habits that put us at risk of high blood pressure. Stress, fast food habits, smoking and lack of exercise can all put a strain on your heart and blood vessels.
Regular blood pressure tests every 1-3 months can help you understand whether you are in the normal range or have elevated blood pressure. One high reading does not necessarily mean there is a problem, so your doctor will usually take a number of different readings. If your blood pressure is consistently high, you may be diagnosed with hypertension. A common misconception is that those with high blood pressure will experience various symptoms, but In fact hypertension is usually symptomless. It is estimated that one in three people in the UK have high blood pressure, with almost half unaware of this. Therefore, it would be unwise to wait for symptoms to alert you to the problem.
Knowing your numbers makes it easier to monitor your blood pressure, and your doctor can advise you as to the most effective methods of lowering it. People can have high blood pressure for years without knowing, and during this time damage may have occurred to the blood vessels, heart or kidneys. Many people only learn that they have the condition when it is too late, or after having cardiac arrest or a stroke.
Sometimes there are symptoms
Although this condition is usually asymptomatic, there are rare occasions where a person may experience certain symptoms that can be associated with it. These may include:
- Blurred vision
- Extreme fatigue and shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat and chest pain
Although symptoms are rare, if you do experience any of these and are worried you could have high blood pressure, then it is essential that you contact your doctor as soon as you can, as it could be your first warning of an impending stroke or heart attack. Hypertension is referred to as the ‘silent killer’, which is why careful consideration is vital, especially if you have a relative who also has high blood pressure.
What to do next?
High blood pressure can usually be lowered and managed with lifestyle changes and recommended prescription medication. Most people require lifelong treatment to help with preventing or delaying problems associated with high blood pressure. For the majority of adults, the main goal is to keep getting their blood pressure below the 140/90mmHg mark. Below is a list of actions that can be taken to help you reach this goal.
Changes in Lifestyle
Picking up healthy eating habits can help in controlling hypertension. These include:
- A healthier, balanced diet
- Exercising and losing weight to a healthy level
- Quitting smoking, managing stress and reducing the amount of alcohol consumed
It may not be easy to make all changes at once, but it is certainly possible taking it step by step. If you are prescribed medication to help manage your condition, making these lifestyle changes can help provide even better control over your blood pressure. Taking steps to reduce stress and relax can improve your emotional and physical wellbeing. Some people find music, yoga, boxing, and going to the gym can help relieve stress.
Prescription blood pressure medications have been designed to help people safely control their blood pressure. These are usually available in tablet form and are easy to use, and side effects are generally minimal. If you do use any medication and experience side effects, then you should contact your doctor, who may recommend an alternative or provide a lower dosage treatment. High blood pressure treatments can work in different ways; some remove excess fluid and salt from the body in order to reduce blood pressure, others help dilate the blood vessels to allow increased blood flow around the body, reducing stress on the heart. Speak with your doctor to understand which treatment is most suited to your needs.
The types of high blood pressure treatments to keep an eye out for include:
- Diuretics (water pills) – flush out excess fluids and salt from the body.
- Beta blockers – reduce the speed and force of your heartbeat. Beta blockers are usually not prescribed for high blood pressure unless other treatments have failed, as they are considered to be less effective than other medications.
- ACE inhibitors – prevent the production of angiotensin II, which narrows the blood vessels. With this action prevented, blood vessels widen and blood pressure drops.
- Calcium channel blockers – these prevent calcium building up in the heart muscles, allowing blood vessels to widen and lowering blood pressure.
It is important to have regular check ups with your doctor to ensure your blood pressure is not elevated, as the only way to know this is to have it measured. Your doctor will also be able to check for other long term conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes. Taking steps now towards a healthier lifestyle, rather than waiting for symptoms, should ensure you stay healthy for as long as possible.