High blood pressure (hypertension) is incredibly common, and it affects about 30 to 50% of the population over their lifetimes. Over time, it damages the blood vessels in the body leading to multiple illnesses, such as heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. One of the biggest misconceptions about high blood pressure is that it causes symptoms. There is a good reason that it’s called the “silent killer” because in most people it causes absolutely no symptoms whatsoever. It just quietly works away in the background, damaging your blood vessels and the organs in your body. You can feel completely normal and have a really, really high blood pressure. A small number of people do get symptoms of pressure in the chest/head or a headache, but they are in the minority.
The only way to find out is to have your blood pressure measured, either with a monitor you can purchase and use at home yourself or at your doctor’s surgery. It’s a simple test and I strongly encourage every home to have their own blood pressure monitor at home to make it easy to check.
How can you lower blood pressure immediately?
High blood pressure is usually not a short-term problem ie you won’t come to any immediate harm, unless the pressure is very high for example over 180/110. Therefore you don’t need to immediately lower a high reading. If you want to do things to keep your blood pressure low in the long-term, the following have been shown to help:
- Follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet – This is a largely non-processed diet rich in vegetables and nutrients like potassium
- Reduce your salt/sodium intake – Most of us eat too much salt in our diet, and it is well recognized that reducing your intake lowers your blood pressure
- Exercise – Really lowers your blood pressure, and even better if you do some aerobic and some weight training because their effects are additive.
- Weight loss – It is said that for every 1 Kg you lose, your BP drops by 1-2 mmHg
- Stress reduction – dealing with stress effectively has many effects on blood pressure
- Alcohol – if you are a heavy drinker then cut back.
What is the main cause of high blood pressure?
Most high blood pressure is what we call “primary hypertension”. Basically, this is when there is no one specific cause, but your doctor thinks it is multi-factorial and related to lifestyle and family history. Common contributing factors are: being overweight; lack of exercise; too much salt intake; too much processed food; excessive alcohol use; and stress. A small number of people have “secondary hypertension”, this is when there is a specific cause that is usually rare ie Cushing’s syndrome.
What happens to your body when you have high blood pressure?
The high blood pressure is present in your arteries. The arteries supply blood to every organ in the body. Therefore, high blood pressure can damage almost every organ and artery in the body. The arteries start by thickening, then plaques and aneurysms (dilatations) can form. Over time it can lead to: heart attacks; stroke; kidney failure; blindness; erectile dysfunction; aneurysms… and the list goes on. Therefore it is so important to identify high blood pressure early and manage it.
What should I do if my blood pressure is 160 over 100?
If your blood pressure is high you should seek the advice of a doctor. High blood pressure is usually diagnosed after multiple readings are taken, or after a 24-hour blood pressure monitor that your cardiologist will fit. 160/100 is not immediately life threatening, but it does require further assessment to ensure you do not have hypertension. Sometimes people have a condition called white coat hypertension. This is when their blood pressure goes up when they visit doctors, but when they take it at home it can be normal.
How can I tell I have high blood pressure without a machine?
Basically, you can’t! It is impossible to estimate your blood pressure based on how you feel. A blood pressure measuring device is needed to measure your blood pressure properly. Ideally this device should be an arm device because many of the wrist BP monitors are less accurate.
Does high blood pressure make you sleep more?
High blood pressure does not make you sleep more. If your pressure is very high you may have some fatigue. However, lack of sleep does put your blood pressure up. One condition called obstructive sleep apnea makes sleep quality very poor. You basically occlude your airway multiple of times a night, and have multiple micro awakenings. Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure. In addition it is well documented that just one night of poor sleep is enough to increase your blood pressure the next day.
What is normal blood pressure by age?
Blood pressure does go up as you get older. In most cases everyone should ideally have a blood pressure of 120/80 or less. Both top and bottom (systolic and diastolic) numbers are important! By the time people get to their 60s, the average blood pressure is around 130/80.
Which arm to measure blood pressure right or left?
It does not matter which arm you use to measure your blood pressure. When you first start measuring it, measure in both arms, and if there is a difference, use the arm with the higher blood pressure.
Does lying down reduce blood pressure?
Blood pressure does tend to be lower when you are lying down. Guidelines and societies recommend that you take your blood pressure when you are sitting.
Does drinking water help reduce blood pressure?
It will not specifically lower your blood pressure, however it is important to stay hydrated, because dehydration can lead to both high and low blood pressure.
Blood pressure is a long term problem that you should not ignore. Ideally everyone should have a pressure of < 120/ 80 if they want to live a long and healthy life.
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Dr Michael MacDonald is a heart doctor and cardiologist working in Singapore.