What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is recorded with 2 numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.
The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels between heartbeats when blood is pumped around your heart.
They're both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
As a general guide:
- high blood pressure is considered to be from 140/90mmHg or more if your reading was taken at a pharmacy, GP surgery or clinic (or an average of 135/85mmHg if it was taken at home)
- if you're over the age of 80, high blood pressure is considered to be from 150/90mmHg or more if your reading was taken at a pharmacy, GP surgery or clinic (or an average of 145/85mmHg if it was taken at home)
- ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, while the target for people over the age of 80 years old is below 150/90mmHg (or 145/85mmHg if it was taken at home)
Blood pressure readings from 121/81mmHg to 139/89mmHg could mean you're at risk of developing high blood pressure if you do not take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
Everyone's blood pressure will be slightly different. What's considered low or high for you may be normal for someone else.
Risks of high blood pressure
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- heart attacks
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysms
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia
If you have high blood pressure, reducing it even a small amount can help lower your risk of these health conditions.
Check your blood pressure
The only way of knowing whether you have high blood pressure is to have a blood pressure test.
All adults over 40 years old are advised to have their blood pressure checked at least every 5 years.
Some people from African, Afro-Caribbean or South Asian heritage may have high blood pressure at a younger age and are encouraged to get their blood pressure checked earlier.
Getting this done is easy and could save your life.
You can get your blood pressure tested at a number of places, including:
- at most pharmacies
- at your GP surgery
- as part of your NHS Health Check
- in some workplaces
You can also check your blood pressure yourself with a home blood pressure monitor.
Things that can increase your risk of getting high blood pressure
It's not always clear what causes high blood pressure, but there are things that can increase your risk.
You might be more at risk if you:
- are overweight
- eat too much salt and do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
- do not do enough exercise
- drink too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
- have a lot of stress
- are over 65 years old
- have a relative with high blood pressure
- are of black African or Black Caribbean descent
- live in a deprived area
Making healthy lifestyle changes can sometimes help reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure and help lower your blood pressure if it's already high.
High blood pressure is also sometimes caused by an underlying health condition or taking a certain medicine.
Treatment for high blood pressure
Doctors can help you keep your blood pressure to a safe level using:
- lifestyle changes
What works best is different for each person.
Talk to your doctor to help you decide about treatment.
This patient decision aid from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (PDF, 132kb) can also help you to understand your treatment options.
Lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure
These lifestyle changes can help prevent and lower high blood pressure:
- reduce the amount of salt you eat and have a generally healthy diet
- cut back on alcohol
- lose weight if you're overweight
- exercise regularly
- cut down on caffeine
- stop smoking
Some people with high blood pressure may also need to take 1 or more medicines to stop their blood pressure getting too high.
Medicines for high blood pressure
If you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend taking 1 or more medicines to keep it under control.
These come as tablets and usually need to be taken once a day.
Common blood pressure medicines include:
- ACE inhibitors – such as enalapril, lisinopril, perindopril and ramipril
- angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs) – such as candesartan, irbesartan, losartan, valsartan and olmesartan
- calcium channel blockers – such as amlodipine, felodipine and nifedipine or diltiazem and verapamil
- diuretics – such as indapamide and bendroflumethiazide
- beta blockers – such as atenolol and bisoprolol
- alpha blockers – such as doxazosin
- other diuretics – such as amiloride and spironolactone
The medicine recommended for you will depend on things like how high your blood pressure is, your age and your ethnicity.