Weekend: Health: Hypertension: The Silent Killer; It Is One of the Biggest Causes of Serious Ill Health in the Country, but It Remains a Hidden Menace. Rachel Armstrong Discovers the Perils of Being under Pressure
Byline: Rachel Armstrong
High blood pressure is one of the UK's biggest killers. Left unchecked it causes strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure and a range of other serious health conditions.
In fact 30 per cent of all deaths in the UK are linked to high blood pressure.
But while 40 per cent of the adult population currently suffers from the condition, known as hypertension, one-third aren't even aware they have it and another third aren't receiving the correct treatment.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) has just issued new guidelines to doctors on how to treat and prevent hypertension.
Professor Bryan Williams, who helped draw up the guidelines, says: 'People in the UK have one of the highest average blood pressure levels in the whole of Europe and also one of the highest stroke rates.
'We've found there's a strict relationship between someone's blood pressure and how long they're likely to live. You can see from the way life insurance companies insist on testing people's blood pressure that it's a key predictor in assessing someone's life expectancy.
'Currently the treatment of hypertension in the UK is carried out with varying levels of success.
'If the new guidelines are followed we estimate 120,000 lives of all the current hypertension sufferers will be saved. And if doctors play a more active role in helping people to prevent hypertension then even more will be saved.'
Donna Robertson, from the Blood Pressure Association believes awareness is the key: 'People need to know there's a reasonable chance they may suffer from hypertension and understand how important it is to regularly check your blood pressure.
'Heart attacks and strokes are the biggest risks of hypertension but it can also cause dementia and eye problems.'
Your blood pressure's determined by two things: how forcefully your heart pumps blood around the body and how narrow or relaxed your arteries are.
You suffer from hypertension when blood is forced through your arteries at an increased pressure. This pressure can cause your arteries to narrow, raising the risk of heart problems and strokes.
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers - the systolic reading comes first which is the pressure on your arteries when the heart pumps blood into them, and the diastolic reading measures the pressure in between heart beats.
A normal blood pressure reading will be around 120/80mmHg. Anyone who consistently has a systolic reading above 140mmHG or a diastolic reading above 90mmHg has high blood pressure although the danger levels vary with age.
For 90 per cent of hypertension cases the causes are unknown (this is called essential hypertension). But there are certain factors likely to increase the risk of developing the problem.
Robertson says: 'Too much salt in the diet, a lack of fruit and veg, a poor exercise regime, stress, obesity and too much alcohol can all cause your blood pressure to rise.
'Age is also a key factor; as you get older your arteries become less elastic. …