High blood pressure, explained

One in four adults in the UK is estimated to have high blood pressure without realising it. Hypertension the medical term for high blood pressure, untreated it increases the risk of severe health problems. It can go unnoticed as it rarely has any signs or symptoms.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. Hypertension is a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels and arteries at higher than normal pressure.

Checking blood pressure involves two numbers measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg)

  • The systolic pressure is the higher number; it records the force at which the heart pumps blood around the body.
  • The diastolic pressure is the lower number measuring the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.
  • A reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean at risk of developing high blood pressure if steps are not taken to bring it under control.

Risk factors for high blood pressure

  • Being over the age of 65
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • Smokers
  • Having relative with high blood pressure
  • People of African or Caribbean descent
  • Lack of exercise
  • High consumption of coffee or other caffeine-based drinks
  • Insomniacs, and poor sleepers

Hypertension can lead to other serious health conditions, heart attack, chronic heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.

Blood pressure health checks.

  • Adults over 40 are recommended to have their blood pressure checked at least once each year. Most GP surgeries provide automated blood pressure machines in their waiting rooms, or your doctor or practice nurse can check it for you 
  • Many pharmacies offer this as a free service
  • The other option is home blood pressure measurements (HBPM) you will have to purchase your own monitor. The NICE guidelines recommend upper arm cuff machines to get the most accurate readings. When taking your BP at home it’s important to sit quietly for 5 mins, then take 3 reading a few minutes apart record the middle reading.

Tip: If you are using your own readings to compare with a health profession, It’s useful to take your machine to your doctor appointments as individual monitors can be calibrated independently, and readings vary.

Additional tests 

Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitoring (ABPM) is used for people with borderline high readings or those who have white coat hypertension, a syndrome, in which some folks exhibit raised blood pressure, in a clinical setting, though they don’t have it in other contexts.

ABPM uses a small digital blood pressure machine, connected to a cuff around your upper arm, and attached to either a strap across the body or a belt. It takes regular reading over a 24hr period (day and night) as people move around living their normal daily life.

Stages of hypertension


  • Systolic pressure from 120 – 139, or a diastolic pressure from 80 -89 is considered pre-hypertension.

Stage 1 hypertension

  • Blood pressure is 140/90, or higher 
  • Subsequent ABPM daytime average 135/85 or higher
  • Or HBPM average blood pressure of 135/85 or higher.

Medication is usually advised at this stage

Stage 2  hypertension

  • Blood pressure is 160/100, and subsequent ABPM daytime average
  • Or HBPM monitoring average is 150/95 mmHg or higher.

Severe hypertension

  • Systolic blood pressure 180 or higher 

Medication for high blood pressure

GP’s may recommend taking one, two or sometimes more medications to control elevated blood pressure, these are dependant on how high the readings are, the age, gender and ethnicity of the patient. Medications include:

  • ACE inhibitors 
  • Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Beta-blockers 
  • Alpha-blockers


Foods that may help manage hypertension  

  • Mediterranean diet, rich in unprocessed foods high in fibre; vegetables, fruits, seeds and beans.
  • Omega-3 rich foods, like grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, chia seeds and flaxseeds
  • Potassium-rich foods balance the effect of sodium, include things like, bananas, melons, avocados and coconut water
  • Garlic is a natural vasodilator, studies showed that garlic reduces blood pressure in patients with uncontrolled hypertension. Taking a good quality supplement is an option if you don’t or can’t eat it.
  • Dark chocolate contains cocoa phenols and flavonols, which are also natural vasodilators so can widen blood vessels helping to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.


Any cardiovascular, or aerobic activity that increases the heart and breathing rate can help lower blood pressure and make the heart stronger, these are possible options;

  • Brisk walking
  • Cycling.
  • Jogging.
  • Swimming.
  • Dancing. 

Please take medical advice before starting a new exercise programme.

Other self-help options

Meditation, mindfulness and other stress reduction methods including Tai Chi, Qigong, creative outlets such as drawing, painting, listening to music have been shown to help in the multifactorial management of reducing high blood pressure.

Things to avoid (sorry)

  • Reduce or avoid alcohol, it narrows arteries which increases blood pressure.
  • Stop smoking, it damages blood vessels and raises the risk of heart problems.
  • Avoid high-sodium processed and tinned foods.
  • Avoid Trans fats and omega-6 fats, as these fats increase inflammation and blood pressure
  • Studies show that high sugar consumption contributes to high blood pressure and might more of a problem than salt intake.
  • Reduce or avoid caffeine as it also causes a spike in blood pressure.


Along with prescribed medication and lifestyle changes, supplements can help improve cardiovascular health.

Please seek the advice of a qualified practitioner or a GP before taking supplements as some can interact with prescribed medication.

  • Fish Oil, many studies have shown consuming EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and benefits heart health.
  • Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant critical for supporting heart health.
  • Magnesium helps relax blood vessels and can have an immediate impact on naturally lowering blood pressure.


A rise in blood pressure is considered a normal part of the ageing process, often without any noticeable symptoms. Which is why prevention, early detection, and management are so crucial to long-term health.

Take up invitations to have your blood pressure checked professionally at least once every six to 12 months, especially if you have a family history or at higher risk for heart disease or stroke.


This information is intended for guidance only, it should not be considered a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment given in person by a trained health professional.