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Blood pressure myths

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is something to be concerned about because if it is left untreated, it can lead to a range of health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

The trouble with high blood pressure is usually there are no obvious symptoms. There are also some common misconceptions about hypertension. We help you dispel these myths:

1. It isn’t a big deal

Early on, you most likely won’t have any symptoms of hypertension, so you may not be too concerned. However, in the long run hypertension can kill you. Normally your heart beats regularly, pumping blood through the vessels throughout your body. As the blood is pushed by the heart beating, the blood in turn pushes against the sides of your blood vessels. Blood vessels are flexible and can widen or constrict as needed to keep blood flowing well. For a variety of reasons, your blood may begin to push too hard against the blood vessels. This is hypertension.

Hypertension can lead to damage of your blood vessels, heart, kidneys and other organs in your body. Cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and circulatory system) is one of the main causes of premature death in the UK. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the UK and the greatest cause of disability in adults.

The scary thing about hypertension is that you may have it without even knowing it. That’s why doctors often call hypertension the 'silent killer'. Health care professionals agree, hypertension is a big deal.

2. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it

Perhaps you have relatives with hypertension. Maybe you’re one of a group of people who are at greater risk. For these or other reasons, you may be tempted to think that there’s nothing you can do about hypertension.

Here is some good news about hypertension - even if you have many risk factors, there are steps you can take to prevent this condition:

  • Keep your weight at a healthy level: you can achieve this by a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet: this includes eating only the amount of food your body needs and choosing foods high in nutrients and low in fat, sugar and salt.
  • Limit how much salt you eat: just avoiding adding salt to your meal plate or when cooking, and limiting how much processed foods you consume, can make a huge difference.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Don’t smoke tobacco: and minimise your exposure to secondhand smoke (passive smoking).
  • Get regular exercise: try to get at least 30 minutes of activity each day. Exercise relieves stress and helps you control your weight.
  • Don’t let stress build up: the chemicals your body makes in response to stress make your heart beat harder and faster and your blood vessels tighten. All this makes blood pressure higher.

Ask your doctor for suggestions about managing hypertension and how to prevent it in the first place. Your doctor may refer you to other health care professionals who can help.

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