High blood pressure (hypertension) means your blood pressure is constantly above recommended levels. Unless your doctor says otherwise, blood pressure should be below 140/90.
What’s the scale of the problem?
High blood pressure affects around 16 million people in the UK. An estimated seven million of those are undiagnosed, as there are rarely any symptoms. You may only find out you’ve got a problem when you have a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure contributes to around half of all heart attacks and strokes in the UK.
Who is at risk of high blood pressure?
Risk factors include being overweight, having too much salt in your diet, not doing enough physical activity, drinking too much alcohol and a having family history of high blood pressure. We also know that people from an African Caribbean background and people living in deprived areas may be at higher risk.
How can it be prevented?
Maintaining a healthy weight, reducing salt, eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, and being physically active all help. These are important even if you’re on medication to reduce blood pressure.
Do I need to take medications?
Blood pressure medication reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with hypertension. But current UK guidance does not recommend medication for everyone. If your blood pressure is only slightly raised, your doctor will do simple blood and urine tests (including checking cholesterol and blood sugar levels), perform an ECG and consider your medical history to decide if you need it.
What about side effects?
Any drug can have side effects. These are often mild but can mean you have to stop a particular drug. Your doctor should explain this when you are first prescribed it. If you do develop side effects, discuss them with your doctor. Different drugs act in different ways, so you could be fine with an alternative.
Are there other issues with high blood pressure medication?
It can be hard to predict which drugs will work for you, but we know some are less effective in older people or those of African Caribbean background. Most people will need more than one drug to control their blood pressure.
It is estimated that more than half of patients do not take their medications as prescribed. This contributes to poor blood pressure control and increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
Part of the problem is that with hypertension, the condition itself usually does not cause symptoms that remind you to take medications. Asking your doctor for once-a-day tablets and building it into your daily routine can help. A dosette box (pill box with compartments for each day, and times of the day if necessary) may help. You can get them at most pharmacies and some GP surgeries.