High blood pressure is a common health condition in Australia, affecting more than one in three people over the age of 18. While it doesn’t cause any particular symptoms, it’s important to monitor and manage because high blood pressure is a risk factor for a number of serious health conditions.
In this blog post we reveal the top causes of high blood pressure and the steps we can take to try to keep our blood pressure within a healthy range.
Blood pressure is an important indicator of your overall health and wellbeing. High blood pressure — which is also known as hypertension — is the leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It also increases your risk of kidney disease, diabetes, eye disease and erectile dysfunction.
High blood pressure is a measure of the pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries as blood is pumped around your body. It varies according to activity, stress levels, exercise and sleep. If your blood pressure is higher than normal most of the time, then your doctor may diagnose you with hypertension.
Blood pressure has two measurements and everyone’s reading is different. The top number is called the systolic pressure (when the heart beats), while the bottom number is known as the diastolic pressure (when the heart muscle is relaxed).
Your blood pressure is considered to be “high” if the systolic pressure (the higher number) is 140 or greater, or the diastolic pressure (the lower number) is 90 or higher, or both.
Your doctor will discuss with you what he or she considers to be normal for you based on your age, family history and other health factors.
What causes high blood pressure?
While there is no single cause of hypertension, there are a number of risk factors that can predispose you to high blood pressure. Some of these you can influence and improve through lifestyle changes, and others we can’t.
Top 5 causes of high blood pressure – and what to do about it
1. Age and family history
The risk of high blood pressure increases as we age. Between 40-50% of Australians over the age of 70 live with hypertension. Also, if a member of your family has high blood pressure, then you are at increased risk as well.
Action: Speak to your doctor about your family history, and ensure you have regular blood pressure checks. Also consider whether you have any other risk factors for hypertension that you can improve through healthy lifestyle changes.
2. Sedentary lifestyle
People who don’t get enough exercise tend to have higher blood pressure. About 45% of people aged 18–64 and 59% of people aged 65 and over don’t get enough physical activity, which puts us at greater risk of developing chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure.
Action: Be active for at least 30 minutes every day. If it’s been a while since you’ve engaged in regular exercise, then get the all-clear from your doctor first.
3. High salt intake
A diet high in salt is a risk factor for high blood pressure. National guidelines recommend consuming no more than one teaspoon of salt per day. However, the average person consumes double this amount. About 80% of the salt in our diet comes from packaged foods, not from salt we add to our foods.
Action: Use herbs and spices to flavour your food instead of adding salt. Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet and choose ‘no added salt’ or ‘salt reduced’ products where you can. It also helps to cut back on processed and packaged foods.
4. Excessive alcohol consumption
Long-term and excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to high blood pressure. It’s recommended that men and women drink no more than two standard drinks a day, and no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion.
Action: Aim to stay within the national guidelines for alcohol consumption and become familiar with what constitutes a “standard drink”. If you’re currently over the recommended daily guidelines, then develop a plan to progressively moderate your intake until you’re back within the healthy range. If you need some extra help and support, then talk to your local doctor.
Excess weight increases your risk of developing hypertension. The good news is that regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and reducing alcohol consumption will help in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, while lowering your risk of high blood pressure.
Action: If you’re carrying some extra kilos, take steps to lose weight by improving your diet and exercising daily. If you have a lot of weight to lose, or you’re not sure how to go about losing weight safely and effectively, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.
What should I do next?
As there are no high blood pressure symptoms, the only way to know if yours is elevated is to have it checked by a doctor.
If you’re in a higher risk category due to age and/or family history, then have your blood pressure checked by your doctor regularly.
If you’ve already been prescribed medication for high blood pressure, then it’s important that you take your medication as prescribed and monitor your blood pressure over time.
You can also put into place the other lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of high blood pressure, which will also reduce your risk of other related health conditions linked to hypertension.
If you have any other concerns about your blood pressure or associated health risks, then discuss these with your local doctor.