High blood pressure is medically known as hypertension. It means that your blood pressure is consistently too high and your heart must work harder to pump blood around your body. High blood pressure can have serious consequences if untreated. Although your arteries are stretchy to cope with your blood pressure going up and down, if you have high blood pressure your arteries become stiffer. This makes it easier for fatty material (atheroma) to clog them up.
Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of conditions such as:
If you have high blood pressure, reducing it even a small amount can help lower your risk of these health conditions.
Often, there are no symptoms, and it is only picked up through a blood pressure check. All adults over 40 are advised to have their blood pressure checked at least every 5 years.
Most people develop high blood pressure because of their diet or lifestyle. Sometimes high blood pressure runs in families and can also worsen with age. It is also more common if you are of black African or black Caribbean descent. Even in these cases, you may still be able to improve your blood pressure by changing your diet and being active.
The following behaviours can all increase your risk of developing high blood pressure:
Drinking too much alcohol - having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, and regular excessive drinking can lead to long-term increases in blood pressure.
Smoking - damages the walls of your arteries, and allows fatty material to stick to them, making them narrower and stiffer. Also, nicotine (the addictive substance found in cigarettes) increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Blood pressure starts to improve as soon as 20 minutes after quitting smoking.
Being overweight - Everyone needs some body fat to stay healthy but too much, particularly around the waist, puts your health at risk. While people tend to worry about the fat they can see and feel directly under their skin (subcutaneous fat), it’s the fat that surrounds our internal organs such as our heart and liver (visceral fat), that poses the greatest health risk. To reduce blood pressure, you may need to change your eating habits and be more active. The best way to do this is to start with small regular changes (see Losing Weight).
Not doing enough exercise - Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. This means there is less pressure on your arteries (the blood vessels that take blood to your major organs), which helps your blood pressure stay at a healthy level.
Eating too much salt - cut down on salty food and don't add salt at mealtimes. Try cooking with herbs instead of salt. If you like takeaways, try to limit how many you have in a week.
Page last updated - August 2023