Blood pressure and the heart

Blood pressure and the heart

Around 1 in 4 adults in the UK have high blood pressure. The symptoms are rarely noticeable but the consequences can be very serious – such as heart attacks or strokes.

The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body. You need a certain amount of pressure to get the blood moving around your body.

Your arteries are the tubes that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Arteries are normally stretchy, so that they can cope with your blood pressure going up and down. But when your blood pressure is high, your arteries lose their stretchiness, and become stiff and narrow. The narrowing makes it easier for fatty material to build up. If there is build up in the arteries to your brain or heart, this could result in a stroke or heart attack.

What are the risks of high blood pressure?

Very high blood pressure puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs. If your blood pressure is constantly high, you could be at increased risk of a number of serious and life-threatening conditions such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart failure
  • Strokes
  • Kidney disease

Who is at risk of high blood pressure?

You are more at risk of high blood pressure if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Eat too much salt and do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • Do not exercise enough
  • Drink too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
  • Smoke
  • 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

Reducing your risk of high blood pressure

Lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure

  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Exercise regularly

Some people with high blood pressure may also need to take medicine(s) to stop their blood pressure getting too high.

Checking your blood pressure

High blood pressure is often symptomless, so the only way to know if you have it is to have a blood pressure test. It is recommended that adults over the age of 40 get theirs tested at least once every 5 years. You can get your blood pressure tested:

  • At your GP surgery – we have a health kiosk at the surgery and welcome people to use it regularly
  • At some pharmacies
  • As part of your NHS Health Check
  • By yourself with a home blood pressure monitor.

What your GP can do

Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitor (ABPM)

Your GP may suggest 24-hour or ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) if they think you may have high blood pressure. ABPM tests your blood pressure regularly over 24 hours, by using a cuff attached to a portable device that’s worn on your waist.

You can continue with your daily activities during this time.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

If your doctor is concerned about your heart, they may suggest an Electrocardiogram (ECG). This may be done by a specialist at a hospital or by your GP at the surgery.

An ECG is a simple test that can be used to check your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity. Sensors attached to the skin are used to detect the electrical signals produced by your heart each time it beats. These signals are recorded by a machine and are looked at by a doctor to see if they’re unusual. ECGs can help detect arrhythmias, coronary heart disease or heart attacks.

Further resources and information