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One in three UK adults has high blood
pressure, increasing their risk of a heart attack or stroke – but
not all of them know it. Cardiac nurse Judy O’Sullivan learns more
about BHF-funded research into the condition’s causes and
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
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.
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
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
Read about Mark
Caulfield's research into genetic causes of hypertension
Read about Morris
Brown's research into the best treatments for hypertension
Read about Chris
Bulpitt's research into hypertension in the elderly
Listen to our
podcast about blood pressure
1 Blood pressure rises with age. In England alone six in ten 65 to 74-year-olds have hypertension.
2 Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury, which is written as mmHg.
3 Your blood pressure is not considered high if it’s below 140/90mmHg.
4 People with diabetes, kidney disease or disease of the heart and circulation should aim for a blood pressure at or below 130/80mmHg.
5 The higher figure is for the systolic pressure – the pressure in the arteries when the heart is contracting.
6 The lower figure is for the diastolic pressure – the pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxing.
7 You can help lower your blood pressure by doing regular physical activity, and having a diet low in salt and alcohol as well as taking prescribed medication.