Earlier this month, HuffPost UK Lifestyle reported that in Britain, 16 million people suffer from high blood pressure and a recent study by Cambridge University has found that 10% of sufferers - 1.6 million could be cured if they were diagnosed early.
Bit what actually is high blood pressure or hypertension as it is officially called?
Katharine Jenner, CEO of Blood Pressure UK said: "High blood pressure (defined as over 140/90mmHg) is very widespread across the UK population...however many people don’t know it, as they don’t have their blood pressure tested. Even if your blood pressure is in what is considered to be the ‘normal’ range (around 130/80), you can still benefit from lowering it, as the risks start much lower."
WHAT IS BLOOD PRESSURE?
Blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries (large blood vessels) as it is pumped around your body by your heart. If this pressure is too high it puts a strain on your arteries and your heart, which makes it more likely that you will suffer a heart attack, a stroke or kidney disease.
"More and more younger people are presenting at their GP with raised blood pressure, and it is important to know that the lower your blood pressure in childhood, the more likely it is to be higher in adulthood," adds Katharine.
So what should you do in the first instance? Book an appointment with your GP - you only need to have yourself tested once every five years, which doesn't sound like much.
Gwen Collins, Chief Nurse at Bupa says: "People usually only find out they have high blood pressure when they have it routinely checked by a nurse or doctor.”
The fact is that unlike a lot of other conditions, high blood pressure is very easy to detect. "The good news," says Katharine, "is that you lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of having a stroke or heart attack at any age – simply – you are never too young or too old to take steps to reduce your blood pressure!"
Some people are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure, while many find they have it due to lifestyle choices.
“Poor lifestyle factors, such as smoking, eating a poor diet (especially one high in salt) and drinking alcohol excessively, can contribute to causing high blood pressure," says Gwen.
But it is manageable, says Katharine. "Even small modifications can help lower it. Those most likely to be at risk are people who are overweight, have a relative with high blood pressure, are of African or Caribbean descent, eat a lot of salt (over 6g a day), don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, don't do enough exercise, drink a lot of alcohol or caffeine, or are aged over 65, also if they are diabetic or have problems with their kidneys – as you can see, this accounts for most people in the UK population."
Gwen also recommends taking on some form of exercise to aid weight loss and strengthen the heart.
Some of us might just shrug this off, but the consequences of ignoring high blood pressure and the effect it can have on your body can be devastating. Even more so, considering how preventable it is.
"High blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels," Katharine says frankly. "This can cause them to become weaker or damaged over time; the higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of serious health problems in the future. Unfortunately, the consequences can be severe, and are often fatal.
"High blood pressure can cause you to have a heart attack, it can also cause heart failure – the biggest causes of death in the UK. High blood pressure is a leading cause of strokes, a third of people who have a stroke diet from the condition, a third survive but do not make a full recovery. It has also been closely linked to some forms of dementia.
"High blood pressure can cause kidney disease, and if you have kidney problems already, can exacerbate the problem. If you have other health conditions, such as diabetes or high cholesterol, this increases your risk of health problems even more."
If you like a drink or few, cutting back may be something to consider. Both Gwen and Katharine advise on sticking to the recommended daily limits, which is three to four units for men, and two to three units for women.
One of the biggest culprits, which we've known about for some time, is salt. Cutting back is the simplest thing you can do to help your high blood pressure, says Katharine. "As salt is added to so many of our favourite foods, including breads, cheese, processed meat, sauces and cereals, we are all eating far above the recommended limit of 6g (about a teaspoon) a day.
"If you stop adding salt to your foods, try and eat less salty foods, and ideally check the label and choose less salty options of your favourite foods – most people can see their blood pressure lower within weeks. The biggest benefits from salt reduction are seen when you also increase your potassium levels – potassium is a mineral that works in opposition to sodium to reduce your blood pressure, and can be found in fruits and vegetables, another good reason to have your ‘five a day’."