High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a serious health condition that can affect anyone. Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood to the rest of your body through arteries. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries.
Some people have a greater chance of having high blood pressure due to:
- Age - The chance of having high blood pressure increases as you get older.
- Gender - Before age 55, men have a greater chance of having high blood pressure. Women are more likely to have high blood pressure after menopause.
- Family history - High blood pressure tends to run in some families.
- Race - People with African or Caribbean heritage are at increased risk for high blood pressure.
- Being overweight - The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, more pressure is exerted on your arteries.
- Physically inactive - The higher heart rate due to inactivity, the harder your heart must work and the stronger the force on your arteries.
- Too much salt (sodium) in your diet - Your body retains more fluid which increases blood pressure.
- Not enough potassium in your diet - Potassium balances the amount of sodium in your cells.
- Too much alcohol - Heavy drinking can damage your heart, in turn increases your blood pressure.
- Stress - High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure.
- Chronic conditions - Some medical conditions will cause blood pressure to rise, e.g. kidney disease, diabetes, sleep apnea.
- Medication - Certain medication, e.g. cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, ibuprofen, some antidepressants, steriods and some prescription drugs can increase your blood pressure.
Sometimes called ‘the silent killer’, high blood pressure is very common in older people and a major health problem. You can have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and still feel just fine as it often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel.
If high blood pressure is not controlled with lifestyle changes and medication, it can lead to a host of complications such as stroke, heart disease, eye problems, kidney failure, vascular dementia and other health problems, in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity or exercise, light headedness when standing and falls.
Understanding Blood Pressure Readings
A device called a sphygmomanometer will be used to measure your blood pressure. You will be familiar with your GP or nurse using a stethoscope, arm cuff, pump and dial. There are automatic devices that use sensors and have a digital display are also commonly used nowadays.
When your blood pressure is measured, the results are given in two numbers, e.g. 140/70.
The first number, called systolic blood pressure, is the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure when your heart relaxes and fills with blood. Normal blood pressure for adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. This is stated as 120/80.
As we age, our vascular system changes. Arteries get stiffer, so blood pressure goes up. If your blood pressure is consistently too high, it puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. The increase in blood pressure with age often causes structural changes in the arteries. If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your GP will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.
For older people, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension, which is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most common form of high blood pressure in the elderly and can lead to serious health problems.
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of high blood pressure:
- Healthier diet, eat more fruit and vegetables that contain potassium
- More exercise or physical activity
- Lose weight especially around the waist
- Reduce salt intake
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Drink less coffee and other caffeinated drinks
- Get a good night's sleep.
- Manage stress, relaxing and coping with problems can help lower high blood pressure
Measuring Your Blood Pressure
One reason to visit your GP regularly is to have your blood pressure checked. Routine checks of your blood pressure will help pick up an early rise in blood pressure, even though you might feel fine. If there's an indication that your blood pressure is high at two or more check-ups, your GP may ask you to check your blood pressure at home at different times of the day.
You can use home blood pressure monitors easily purchased online from the internet or some pharmacies. One of the more popular brands is Omron.
It is important to make sure you use equipment that has been properly tested. The British Hypertension Society (BHS) has information about validated blood pressure monitors you can buy for home use.
Your local pharmacy may have a Health Check Service where you can check your blood pressure.
On the other hand, low blood pressure can be caused by not drinking enough liquids (dehydration), blood loss, some medical conditions, or too much medication. If your blood pressure is lower than 90/60, you have low blood pressure (hypotension). You may feel lightheaded, weak, dizzy, or even faint. Low blood pressure might seem desirable and can be a sign of being fit and healthy. For some people, it causes no problems. However, abnormally low blood pressure, in severe cases can be life-threatening.
It is therefore important to recognise the signs of both high and low blood pressure. If your lifestyle changes are not able to reduce your blood pressure, your GP will prescribe medication can be used to help control high blood pressure. Many people need to take a combination of different medication.
You may need to take blood pressure medication for the rest of your life. But your GP might be able to reduce or stop your treatment if your blood pressure stays under control for several years.
It is really important to take your medication as directed. If you miss doses, it won’t work as effectively but don’t double the dose the next time you take it. The medication may not necessarily make you feel any different, but this does not mean it is not working. If you do experience side effects, consult your GP and changing medication may help.
Be in contact with your GP regularly for ongoing evaluation and discussions in order to strike the best balance of reducing risks and maintaining a good quality of life.
How we can help
Our home visits can provide medication support and ensure that your loved ones remain safe in their home environment, particularly with those suffering with vascular dementia, recovering from stroke, heart disease and other complex needs or conditions associated with high blood pressure.