High blood pressure: stop the silent killer in its tracks

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High blood pressure is sometimes called the “silent killer” – with good reason, too. It has few symptoms, but left untreated can dramatically increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Around 30 per cent of the adult population has high blood pressure – or hypertension – yet many don’t even realise it. It sounds obvious, but the only way of knowing if there’s a problem in the first place, is to have it measured. In fact, we should all be going along to our GP to get checked out at least every five years.

So, what exactly is high blood pressure?

Put simply, blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries as it’s pumped around the body by your heart. If this pressure is too high it puts a strain on your arteries and heart, which makes it more likely that you will suffer a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and it is recorded as two figures: systolic (the pressure of the blood when your heart beats) and diastolic (the pressure when your heart rests between beats).

So, if your GP says your blood pressure is “140 over 90” (or 140/90mmHg), it means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.

You are said to have high blood if these readings consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90mmHg or higher.

Your chances of having high blood pressure increase as you get older, hence the importance of getting it checked by your GP.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Robert Gerber explains: “High blood pressure can cause long term health problems if left untreated, yet it is relatively easy to manage once you know you have it.

“First your doctor will look at what lifestyle changes you can make. For example, regular exercise helps keep your heart in good condition as well as maintaining a normal body rate – both important factors in keeping blood pressure down.

“Alcohol consumption should be kept within safe limits. And we should all avoid adding extra salt to our diets, which should be rich in fruits and vegetables and low in high-fat dairy products. If lifestyle changes don’t do the trick then medication will be prescribed.”

Joining Benenden Health gives you access to a wide range of advice services and information for every part of life, including instant access to a health concern advice line, which will direct you to the best advice for keeping your blood pressure down.

Benenden Health is the UK’s most trusted healthcare provider as voted in the Moneywise Awards for the last two years. It is a mutual, not for profit organization, offering discretionary services at a flat rate of £7.80 per person per month.

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