Hypertension is a medical condition where there is increased blood pressure within the circulation system. It is usually a consequence of increased stiffness in the walls of the arteries that occurs with increasing age.

Occasionally it is caused by another medical condition such as a kidney disorder. Blood pressure is measured in mmHg as a systolic pressure (the forward flow pressure through the blood vessels during the heart beat) and the diastolic pressure (the resting pressure in the blood vessels), e.g. 120/80 mmHg. Hypertension is defined when recordings are persistently above 140/90 mmHg.

How common is it?

High blood pressure is extremely common, affecting about 1 in 4 of the adult population. Like many conditions, it becomes more common with increasing age.

What symptoms might I get?

High blood pressure usually does not cause symptoms but, left untreated, it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Will I need treatment?

Yes, most patients with hypertension require at least two forms of medication to lower their blood pressure to the recommended level of below 140/90 mmHg. Lifestyle changes are important, particularly dietary changes, increasing exercise and weight loss. A reduction in alcohol and salt intake can help.

What extra tests are required?

A heart trace (ECG) and heart ultrasound (echocardiogram) will help identify if there is heart muscle thickening caused by high blood pressure. Patients may need some blood and kidney checks. A 24 hour blood pressure monitor is sometimes used, particular in those patients who have high blood pressure in the Doctor’s office (white coat hypertension).

Is it hereditary?

Not usually, although there are some families who have a higher incidence of high blood pressure.

Does this affect my life expectancy?

Left untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attacks, heart failure and stroke. With effective treatment, most patients with high blood pressure lead a normal life.

What happens next?

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or high blood pressure is suspected you should examine your lifestyle to see if anything needs to change. You should make an appointment with your general practitioner to discuss if any further investigation or treatment is required.

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