World Hypertension Day (WHD) is aimed at raising awareness of hypertension, what it is and what we can do to prevent it. WHD was first introduced in May 2005 and has become an annual worldwide event ever since.
What is hypertension?
To understand what hypertension is, it is important to firstly know what blood pressure is. Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body and is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Every blood pressure reading consists of two figures - a high figure over a low figure. The high figure, known as systolic pressure, represents the maximum pressure within the arteries as your heart contracts and pushes blood around the body. The low figure, known as diastolic pressure, represents the pressure in the arteries as your heart relaxes and fills up with blood.
As a general guide, an ideal blood pressure ranges between 90/60 mmHg to 120/80 mmHg. Anything lower than 90/ 60 mmHg is considered low, anything greater than 140/90 mmHg is considered high.
Hypertension is the term used to described a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure is consistently elevated above 140/ 90 mmHg. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to cardiovascular complications such as a heart attack or stroke.
In 2016, Public Health England (PHE) published a report detailing the prevalence of hypertension within the U.K. population. The report estimated that 13.8% of the U.K. adult population (aged 16+) had known hypertension in 2014/2015. Furthermore, it was also estimated that 12.0% of the U.K. adult population were living with undiagnosed hypertension.
What causes hypertension?
There are two categories of diagnosis for hypertension - primary and secondary. Primary hypertension means that there is no isolated and obvious cause for a raised blood pressure. Secondary hypertension is diagnosed if there is an underlying medical condition that leads to a raised blood pressure.
Primary hypertension is the most common diagnosis of high blood pressure (approximately 19 in every 20 people who have high blood pressure). Although there is no identifiable reason for primary hypertension, there are numerous associated risk factors.
Alcohol - excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, therefore it is recommended that you should consume no more than 14 units per week (approx 6 pints of beer or 1 and 1/2 bottles of wine).
Diet - dietary habits can also result in high blood pressure, such as too much salt or too much caffeine. Also a diet lacking in potassium (found mostly in fruit and vegetables) can cause high blood pressure.
Weight - a high body mass index (BMI) classified as overweight or obese can lead to high blood pressure, especially if you carry more weight around the waist.
Exercise - lack of physical activity is known to be a contributing factor to elevated blood pressure; therefore it is advisable to exercise at least 150 minutes per week at a moderate intensity.
Smoking - the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of artery walls, causing arteries to narrow and increasing blood pressure. If you smoke, quitting as soon as possible is one of the best things you can do to improve your heart health.
Less prevalent of the two types, secondary hypertension is diagnosed in approximately 5% of people with high blood pressure. The most common causes are kidney disease and pregnancy, however other underlying medical conditions have been linked to secondary hypertension, such as an underactive or overactive thyroid, sleep apnoea and immune disorders such as lupus. It is also important to note that certain medications such as anti-inflammatories, oral contraceptives and steroids can raise blood pressure, so if you regularly take medication it is important to consult with your GP to ensure that your blood pressure is not affected.
What can I do to reduce my risk of hypertension?
If you do have high blood pressure, altering your lifestyle in accordance with the aforementioned risk factors should help reduce your blood pressure, however if lifestyle changes do not help then it is advisable to consult with your GP.
If you do not know your blood pressure but would like to, home kits are now readily available in pharmacies, with most pharmacies also offering free in-store blood pressure checks. We know that approximately 12% of the population are not aware that they have hypertension, so it is more important than ever to know what your blood pressure is in order to reduce your cardiovascular risk.