Keeping a lid on pressure

Blood cells inside the bodyOne in three UK adults has high blood pressure, increasing their risk of a heart attack or stroke – but not all of them know it. In this article from the February 2012 issue of Heart Matters, cardiac nurse Judy O’Sullivan learns more about BHF-funded research into the condition’s causes and treatments.

Blood pressure is simply the force of blood against the walls of our arteries, similar to the way water exerts pressure inside a plastic pipe.

We need to keep a certain level of pressure in our arteries to maintain normal body function, though this varies from person to person. If it’s too high, it’s known as hypertension and, if uncontrolled, it significantly increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. The problem is, it’s usually symptom-free so many people are unaware they have it, which is why routine blood pressure checks are so important.

In a very small number of people, fewer than one in 100, high blood pressure is caused by a rare genetic condition. But by far the most common type is essential hypertension – the result of genes and lifestyle combined. This type is responsible for approximately seven in every ten strokes and five in every ten heart attacks.

One of the biggest challenges in treating hypertension is to get people to take their medication. If, like most people, you don’t have symptoms – only a few people complain of headaches – you can’t feel an immediate benefit from the medication.

Conn's syndrome video



Watch our short film about a new scan to diagnose Conn's syndrome, a cause of hypertension. (You may need to log into Heart Matters first.)



And if you feel fine, it’s difficult to imagine that a heart attack or stroke will happen to you, which is why many people don’t take their tablets. However, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, as Ian Thomson’s story shows.

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