High blood pressure

What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is high blood pressure?

It's thought that around 30% of the population has high blood pressure, although many are undiagnosed. A blood pressure reading measures the force with which blood presses against the walls of your arteries as it's pumped around your body. High blood pressure puts your heart and arteries under strain and increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

You'll see your blood pressure reading written down as one number over the other. The top number is systolic pressure, expressed in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). This is a measure of the force of your blood when your heart pumps it out. The lower number is your diastolic pressure: the pressure of your blood when your heart is resting between beats. High blood pressure is diagnosed when your readings are at or above 140/90mmHg on several separate occasions. Normal blood pressure is considered to be below 130/80mmHg.

High blood pressure is particularly common in people who are persistently stressed; are overweight; have a family history of high blood pressure; are of African or Caribbean descent; smoke; drink a lot of alcohol; eat a lot of salt; don't take exercise or are over 65 years old.

High blood pressure can also be caused by pregnancy, and your blood pressure will be checked frequently if you're a mum-to-be. In 2-5% of pregnancies, high blood pressure in pregnancy is a symptom of pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition for mum and baby.

What are the symptoms of High blood pressure?

Because there are rarely symptoms of high blood pressure, it's known as 'the silent killer'. In rare cases where the blood pressure is very high, symptoms may include a persistent headache; blurred or double vision; shortness of breath or nosebleeds.

What are the treatments and remedies of High blood pressure?

The first course of treatment for high blood pressure is usually a change to your lifestyle, and your GP may suggest that you increase your exercise; lose any excess weight; cut down on your salt intake and give up smoking. You should be monitored regularly while you're making these changes. If after you've tried the self-help measures your GP suggests your blood pressure is still found to be high, you will be prescribed medication. It can take trial and error and a combination of different drugs before the balance is just right for you. All adults should have their blood pressure checked every five years, so if you haven't had yours checked within that time, make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net


High blood pressure