Georgina Camfield

Understanding high blood pressure and how to reduce it

Global access to healthcare

10 June 2019

blood-pressure-infographic-1

High blood pressure – or hypertension as doctors often refer to it – is a very common medical condition which can often go undiagnosed. Globally, it’s the leading known cause of premature death through stroke, heart disease and chronic kidney disease. We’ve seen the number of people living with high blood pressure worldwide double over the past 40 years to 1.1 billion, yet it is possible that only around 50% of those have it under control.

High blood pressure is a global problem shifting from wealthy western countries to the developing world. In many countries, men are found to have higher blood pressure than women, putting them at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Blood pressure around the world

A recent study from Blood Pressure UK showed that the largest rises in high blood pressure from 1975 to 2015 were in South Asia, including in Bangladesh and Nepal, and Sub-Saharan Africa, including in Ethiopia and Malawi. 

They also found that the lowest rates of high blood pressure were seen in Canada, the UK, Australia, the USA, Peru, South Korea, and Singapore. High blood pressure remains a serious problem in Central and Eastern Europe, including Slovenia, Lithuania and Croatia. 

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Written by Georgina Camfield

Georgina is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and a qualified fitness instructor.  

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What causes high blood pressure?

In most cases, whilst there’s no single identifiable cause for high blood pressure it’s been proven that lifestyle conditions such as being overweight, having an inactive lifestyle, smoking, having a poor diet and drinking too much alcohol can all contribute to a rise. 

The good news is that high blood pressure is manageable and can be often controlled efficiently through lifestyle changes and if necessary, medication. You should always check with your doctor before starting any medication. You can also monitor it yourself by having regular blood pressure checks and being aware of your health.

There are of course some cases where it may not be preventable by introducing lifestyle changes, such as those caused by kidney disease, hormone disorders, a narrowing of the aorta or as a side effect of medicines including steroids and the contraceptive pill. High blood pressure may also arise from a condition called pre-eclampsia which can occur in pregnancy, where the placenta doesn’t work as well as it’s supposed to. 

What is blood pressure? 

When your heart pumps blood around your body, the blood pushes against the sides of the blood vessels it travels through, creating pressure. This is known as blood pressure. If the pressure is too high, it puts your arteries and heart under excess strain. 

blood pressure terms infographic

What should my numbers be?

A blood pressure reading has two numbers:

  • Systolic: The pressure in the arteries when the heart is contracting.
  • Diastolic: The pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxing.

Blood pressure is considered to be high if the numbers are 140/90mmHg or above. Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg and low blood pressure (known as hypotension) is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower.

blood pressure numbers mean

10 tips to help you reduce your blood pressure: 

  1. Control your weight: Being a healthy weight will reduce strain on your body and blood pressure. 
  2. Do regular aerobic exercise: Regular exercise helps reduce blood pressure and strengthen your heart. Even a brisk 10 minute walk every day is enough to start benefiting our cardiovascular health. 
  3. Cut down on salt intake to less than 6g a day: Salt has the potential to increase blood pressure, so instead, add flavour and not salt to your food. Experiment with herbs and spices to add fantastic taste. 
  4. Eat more fruit and vegetables and foods that contain omega 3: Along with a wealth of other minerals and vitamins, fruit and vegetables contain potassium which helps your kidneys get rid of excess fluid and sodium from the blood stream, reducing blood pressure.  Omega 3’s are present in foods such as oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel), nuts (walnuts) seeds (chia, flax) and plant based oils (flax, soybean).
  5. Don't smoke: High blood pressure reduces blood flow and smoking makes this even worse by clogging up arteries.
  6. Cut down on alcohol: Stick to recommended limits of 14 units per week to minimise the risk and take mini breaks in the week with alcohol free days. 
  7. Manage stress: Stress can increase blood pressure. Try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness.
  8. Get some sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Individuals that achieve less than 6 hours of sleep per night are at increased risk of high blood pressure. See our article on sleep and mindfulness.
  9. Reduce caffeine: Caffeine can cause a spike in blood pressure, so limit caffeine to no more than 400mg (200mg during pregnancy) per day to try to avoid this. That’s around 3-4 cups of coffee depending on the strength. 

blood pressure preventive infographic

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27855138
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11358929http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/mediacentre/Newsreleases/1billionpeopleworldwidenowhavehighbloodpressure
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913764/