London Heart

What does high blood pressure really mean and how dangerous is it for my heart?

Being diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension, can be alarming – and confusing, as most of the time high blood pressure doesn’t cause symptoms, so you might feel totally fine.

Hypertension should be taken seriously however, especially where heart health is concerned. But the good news is, high blood pressure can be well managed.

What is high blood pressure? 

Blood pressure relates to the force at which blood’s being pumped around your body. Measurements consist of two numbers – a higher one (systolic pressure), which measures the force of blood being pumped from your heart, and a lower one (diastolic pressure), which measures the resistance to blood flow within your blood vessels. A normal range is generally between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, and anything from 140/90mmHg upwards is considered high (but it’s important to take note of reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg too, as this could mean you’re at risk of developing hypertension).

Who does it affect? 

Anyone can get high blood pressure, but some are more at risk. This includes smokers, being aged 65 and over, overweight or obese, having an inactive lifestyle, poor diet (especially too much salt) and drinking too much alcohol. People of African or Caribbean descent are also more at risk.

How exactly does high blood pressure affect the heart?

Hypertension puts extra strain on blood vessels and can affect the heart in a range of ways. It’s a known cause of coronary heart disease, heart failure, heart attacks and stroke: in fact, high blood pressure is thought to be responsible for more than half of all strokes and heart attacks.

The ‘silent killer’ 

It’s very rare for high blood pressure to cause symptoms, so it’s usually only detected once you have your blood pressure checked. This is why it’s described as a ‘silent killer’ and why routine blood pressure checks are so important. According to the Blood Pressure UK, it’s believed around 1 in 3 UK adults has high blood pressure – but half are undiagnosed and/or not receiving treatment.

How is it treated? 

Keeping high blood pressure under control can massively reduce your risk of things like heart disease, so it’s important to treat it, even if you feel healthy. A number of medications can help, depending on how high your blood pressure is and what’s most suitable for you.

What else can you do? 

Lifestyle also plays a big role in managing hypertension. Reducing excess salt from the diet is often a top priority, along with quitting smoking if you smoke and reducing alcohol intake. A healthy diet, as well as ensuring you get regular exercise (even if it’s just walking) and maintaining a healthy weight are also important. Keeping track of your blood pressure with a home monitoring kit will also help you keep on top of things, so if your readings aren’t improving or start increasing, you can speak to your doctor for additional advice.

If you’re concerned about your heart health or high blood pressure, make an appointment to see how leading London heart specialist Dr Syed Ahsan can help.