The normal level of blood pressure is usually about 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). For most people, the goal is to have a blood pressure of less than 140 over 90, or 130 over 80 if you have diabetes. If you have been told that your blood pressure is higher than this, you should discuss it with your doctor.
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Someone with high blood pressure may look and feel well. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked.
If not treated or kept under control, high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, dementia and some forms of blindness.
Living with overweight, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much salt and not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables may lead to an increase in blood pressure. As you grow older, your blood pressure also increases.
High blood pressure is not a disease of an anxious or highly strung person, nor is it caused by a stressful lifestyle.
Diabetes can sometimes be linked high blood pressure. Your doctor will test your urine or blood for sugar levels to check if you have diabetes.
For a small number of people, high blood pressure might have an underlying cause such as kidney problems, abnormal hormone levels, thyroid problems or obstructive sleep apnoea. This type of high blood pressure is called secondary hypertension. Once the underlying cause is identified and treated, blood pressure usually returns to normal. Your doctor will know when to look out for signs of these underlying conditions.
For a healthy level of blood pressure it’s important to:
The more cardiovascular risk factors you have, the greater the urgency in getting your blood pressure measured and under control. This is also the case for people with a history of a heart attack or stroke.
Blood pressure varies with age and depends on how active you are before it is checked. If you are nervous or anxious when your blood pressure is checked, the measurement can be higher than usual because your heart is beating faster.
One high reading does not always mean that you have high blood pressure. If you do have a high reading at first, your doctor will usually want to check your blood pressure several times. The more readings you have, the more accurate your blood pressure diagnosis will be. Your doctor may sometimes recommend that you monitor your blood pressure over 24 hours. This gives many more readings to help your doctor decide if you need treatment.
You have high blood pressure if your systolic blood pressure remains at 140 mmHg or higher or your diastolic blood pressure remains at 90 mmHg or higher after several blood pressure readings.
If you are over 30 with no risk factors for high blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked once every 5 years. If your blood pressure is borderline high (around 140 over 90), your doctor or practice nurse will check it more often.
In Ireland, the Chronic Disease Management (CDM) Programme aims to prevent and manage chronic (long-term) conditions through your local GP practice. The benefit of the programme is that you and your doctor can work together to reduce your risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or both.
The programme is free if you have a medical card or GP visit card. It includes one set of reviews with your GP and practice nurse every 12 months. These reviews include a blood pressure check and blood tests. For more information about the programme, speak to your doctor or practice nurse or visit the HSE’s CDM information page.
If you have high blood pressure and are thinking of buying a monitor to measure your blood pressure at home, it is important that you select the right device.
With so many devices available, it can be confusing to know which is the best home blood pressure monitor for you. The good news is that you can find a list of independently tested devices approved for home use from non-profit organisation STRIDE-BP.
These lifestyle changes may help to reduce your blood pressure and can sometimes bring blood pressure that is mildly high to a normal level. But most people who are diagnosed with high blood pressure will need to take medications.
Medication and high blood pressure
For most people with high blood pressure, tablets prescribed by your doctor will reduce your blood pressure to normal or healthy levels.
Some of the most common types of blood pressure medications are:
The number and type of medication will vary from one person to the next, and depend on how the blood pressure responds to the treatment.
Your doctor may organise further 24-hour blood pressure monitoring for you after starting treatment to check that the medications are working.
If you have been prescribed tablets for high blood pressure, you will usually have to take them for life. Always take your tablets as prescribed and never stop taking them without telling your doctor. Evidence shows that tablets for high blood pressure will reduce your risk of having a stroke. If you experience any side effects, tell your doctor so you can work together to find another medication or dose that suits you better.
The Irish Heart Foundation offers a range of free support services to those affected by heart disease or stroke that can greatly improve quality of life. These include support groups, physical exercise classes, therapy sessions and more.
For more information on these supports, see our Patient Supports page.
If you have any questions about heart disease or stroke, you can also call the Irish Heart Foundation’s Nurse Support Line on (01) 668 5001 for information, guidance and support.
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