It is estimated that approximately six million Australians suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure. Of those, four million are left untreated or have inadequate control.
This is an issue because high blood pressure is a leading cause of premature death and disability as well as being a major contributor of stroke and heart disease.
Unlike other health problems, there are no warning signs you have high blood pressure until it is too late. Which is why it is important to get it checked regularly.
What is blood pressure?
It’s the measurement of the pressure your blood has on the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood around the body.
Blood pressure naturally changes, depending on your body’s needs. It is lower when you are relaxing and higher when you are physically exerting yourself and your heart needs to pump harder.
High blood pressure is when your blood pressure is higher than normal most of the time.
A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. The first refers to the systolic pressure, when the heart is pumping blood. The second number refers to the diastolic pressure, when the heart relaxes.
Blood pressure readings can range from 90-120 for systolic and 60-140 for diastolic.
What is considered ‘high’?
The ideal blood pressure is 120/80mmHg.
A reading between 120/80mmHg-139/89mmHg is classified as normal-high.
The Heart Foundation classifies hypertensive patients as those who have “blood pressure ≥140/90 mmHg.”
It found that while a third of the Australian population are defined as hypertensive, only half are taking their prescribed medication.
For those who have a high risk of cardiovascular disease, the Heart Foundation recommends aiming for a blood pressure reading of less than 120mmHg.
What causes high blood pressure?
Everything from your family health history to your weight and your diet to drinking habits influence blood pressure.
There is no one overriding factor, which is why lifestyle changes are essential if you don’t want to take blood pressure-lowering medication.
How can you lower your blood pressure?
To help to lower your blood pressure, it is important that you:
- Maintain a healthy body weight by either monitoring your Body Mass Index (BMI) or your waist circumference. Men should aim for a waist of less than 94cm and women less than 80cm.
- Move every day, it doesn’t have to be a gym session, 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, such as a brisk walk, will work wonders.
- Limit alcohol intake. Men should keep to two standard drinks a day while women shouldn’t have more than one.
- Decrease salt intake to less than five grams per day. Most processed foods are high in salt, so focus on cooking from scratch and increasing fresh produce in your diet.
- Increase potassium intake. Aim for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day, plus legumes (chick peas, lentils, baked and kidney beans) and plain unsalted nuts.
- Quit smoking.
Medication for blood pressure
Blood pressure medication can include diuretics, beta blockers, ace inhibitors and more.
It is important to discuss medication options thoroughly with your GP as each will have side effects or contra-indications.
For example, diuretics help control blood pressure by ridding the body of excess salt and water, but they also affect the body’s ability to absorb potassium.
While beta blockers can reduce the heart’s rate to lower blood pressure, they can also contribute to insomnia, fatigue and a too-slow heartbeat.
ACE inhibitors help relax blood vessels so they open up, which lowers blood pressure, but they can cause skin rashes, loss of taste and cannot be taken by pregnant women.
It may be a case of experimenting, under your GP’s supervision, to see which option is best for you.
NOTE: The main resource for this page is https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/for-professionals/clinical-information/hypertension?_ga=2.179927652.13553232.1580076421-454334056.1578888981