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What is hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. It refers to the pressure inside the body’s blood vessels. 

Blood pressure is normally kept by the body in a certain range (80-120 mg Hg) but in some people, it can be higher this. If it is consistently high for long periods, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the arteries. This stresses the ehrat and damages the blood vessels. 

High blood pressure itself doesn’t usually causes noticeable symptoms. But sustained hypertension is one of the contributing factors to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries that is the cause of heart attacks and strokes. So persistent hypertension can damage many of the body’s organs, including the heart and kidneys. It can lead to stroke, heart disease and kidney failure.

In most cases we don’t know what causes hypertension. It often runs in families, and is more common in older people and in people who:

  • are overweight or obese
  • don’t exercise enough
  • eat a diet high in salt and saturated fat
  • drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol
  • have kidney disease.

Measuring blood pressure

The doctor uses a sphygmomanometer (a machine with an inflatable cuff that wraps around your upper arm) to measure your blood pressure. 

Blood pressure readings are a combination of two measurements; the top pressure after the heart has pumped, normally around 120 mmHg , and the lower pressure, when the heart has relaxed before it pumps again, normally usually around 80mmHg.

So, for most people, a healthy blood pressure measurement is 120/80, referred to as 120 over 80. 

However, these figures may fluctuate and blood pressure may be higher than these figures during exercise or exertion. But if the blood pressure is consistently higher than these figures, even at rest, it indicates hypertension. A blood pressure over 140/90 at rest  is considered high; blood pressure over 180/110 at rest is very high.

Usually three consecutive abnormally high readings, each taken on different occasions, are needed before a diagnosis of hypertension can be made.

Experts recommend that everyone should have their blood pressure checked regularly (preferably yearly).

What do I do about hypertension?

If your blood pressure is only slightly raised, it can be brought down by lifestyle changes.  Two out of five people can successfully lower their blood pressure by making changes to their lifestyle. These include:

  • not smoking
  • eating a balanced diet, that is low salt and saturated fat, with lots of fruit, vegetables and grains
  • exercising regularly (30 minutes a day of moderate activity on most days)
  • limiting alcohol intake (to no more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day) 
  • maintaining a healthy weight. 

If these lifestyle measures aren’t enough to lower the blood pressure to normal levels, then your doctor may prescribe medication. There are several different types of medications available for high blood pressure and new ones are constantly being developed. They work in different ways. Often the right medication and the dose is a matter of trial and error; your doctor may put you on one or more medications and then measure the blood pressure to see whether it is having the required effect. Some people may need more than one medication.

Any medication for hypertension needs to be monitored carefully by your doctor. You should never change the dose of your hypertension medication yourself or stop taking it without consulting first with your doctor. Medications don’t cure hypertension altogether, they merely lower the blood pressure to avoid its serious effects on the body, so most of the people need to keep taking the medications indefinitely.

More info

Hypertension – Heart Foundation


Hypertension – Health Direct


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