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High blood pressure (Hypertension) – BHF – British Heart Foundation

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High blood pressure (hypertension) is very common. Although it doesn’t often come with symptoms, knowing you have high blood pressure could prevent life-threatening complications like heart attack and stroke.
You can listen to an audio version of this information:
With the help of our cardiac nurses, we created this audio using our voices and an AI tool. For more information on how we use AI at the BHF, get in touch.  
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries. Your arteries are the vessels (tubes) that carry blood from your heart to your brain and the rest of your body. You need a certain amount of pressure to get the blood moving around your body.
Your blood pressure naturally goes up and down throughout the day and night, and it’s normal for it to go up while you’re moving about. It’s when your overall blood pressure is always high, even when you are resting, that you need to do something about it.
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers:
Learn what normal blood pressure readings look like
The medical term for high blood pressure is ‘hypertension’, and it means your blood pressure is always too high. This means your heart is working harder when pumping blood around your body.
High blood pressure is a serious condition.
Your arteries are normally stretchy, so they can cope with your blood pressure going up and down. But with high blood pressure, your arteries lose their stretchiness, becoming stiff or narrow.
This narrowing makes it easier for fatty material (atheroma) to build up. This narrowing and damage to the arteries lining your heart or brain could trigger a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can also lead to complications such as:
Learn more about how high blood pressure is treated.
Our fortnightly Heart Matters newsletter includes the latest updates about medications and treatments, as well as support for healthy eating, staying active and your emotional wellbeing.
In most cases, there isn’t a specific reason for the cause of high blood pressure, but most people develop it because of their diet, lifestyle or medical condition.
You might be more at risk if you:
People living in deprived areas are also at higher risk of having high blood pressure, as well as people who are of black African or black Caribbean descent. Changes in your diet and increasing activity levels will help improve your blood pressure.
For some people, a cause of high blood pressure is found. This is known as ‘secondary hypertension’.
Examples of secondary hypertension include:
If you are worried that any medicine or remedy might affect your blood pressure, ask your doctor or pharmacist about it.
Visit the NHS website  for more information about the causes of secondary hypertension.
Around one in ten women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. This increases the risk of long-term high blood pressure.
Research funded by the BHF found that lowering the blood pressure of birth mothers within six weeks of giving birth reduced their long-term risk.
Read about hypertension during pregnancy
Most people don’t know they have high blood pressure because there aren’t obvious symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.
Rarely, it can cause symptoms like blurred vision, headaches and nosebleeds.
As many as 5 million adults in the UK have undiagnosed high blood pressure and don’t know they are at risk. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to have it measured.
You can get your blood pressure checked at:
If you’re a healthy adult aged 40 to 74, and live in England or Wales, you’ll be invited to a free NHS Health Check every 5 years, which will include a blood pressure check.
You can also check your blood pressure at home. In England, a scheme called Blood Pressure @home is in place to support people with this, which you can ask your GP about. There is also a similar scheme in Scotland called the Scale-Up BP initiative.
Your blood pressure is usually measured using a blood pressure monitor. This is usually an electronic monitor connected to an inflatable cuff, which is wrapped around your upper arm.
When you have your blood pressure measured, the reading is written as two numbers. The first is when the pressure is at its highest (or systolic pressure), and the second at its lowest (or diastolic pressure).
For example, your reading might be something like 140/90 mmHg, which you would say as “140 over 90” (mmHg is a unit for measuring blood pressure).
Your blood pressure will usually need to be checked more than once to confirm a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
This is because blood pressure can go up and down a lot during the day. When people have their blood pressure checked in the clinic it can be higher than expected, especially if they feel nervous or anxious.
If your blood pressure is high in the clinic, you might be advised to:
If you’ve been asked to monitor your blood pressure at home, your GP will ask you to check your blood pressure over several days. This can include taking a series of recordings (at least two), twice a day, in the morning and evening.
By looking at all your blood pressure readings over a few days, your GP can work out what your ‘average’ blood pressure is.
In some cases, your GP might want to run other tests as well. For instance, they might want to do blood tests to check your cholesterol levels and kidney function, or check your heart rhythm with a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG).
To help you check your blood pressure at home easily, you can look at approved blood pressure monitors in our online shop.
You can also find out how to choose a reliable blood pressure monitor first.
Buy a blood pressure monitor
There are two categories of normal blood pressure:
The NHS has a handy tool to show where your blood pressure is on a chart.
There are three different stages of high blood pressure:
Discuss your readings with your healthcare team and ask any questions you have. Together, you might want to set a target blood pressure that’s right for you and your health goals.
How your high blood pressure is managed depends on a range of things, such as your health goals and the stage of your condition. The healthcare team at your GP practice will help you create a plan to reduce your blood pressure.
By making lifestyle changes, you can lower your blood pressure and keep it at a healthy level. Recent evidence shows that tackling obesity and staying active are especially important. You’ll feel the benefits right away with improved sleep, more energy, and a better mood. This useful tool developed by the NHS helps you make a plan that you can discuss with your GP.
If your blood pressure is high or very high, your GP will usually offer you medicines on top of lifestyle changes.
We’ve worked with BHF nurses to make it easier to measure and manage your blood pressure at home by pulling all the information you’ll need together in one simple place:
Manage your blood pressure at home
If you’re a healthy adult aged 40 to 74, it’s a good idea to get your blood pressure checked every five years (during an NHS Health Check if in England or Wales). If you’re near the threshold for high blood pressure, your healthcare team may ask to monitor you more often.
If your blood pressure is well controlled, you’ll normally be monitored yearly, along with reviewing any medication you take. When you start new medications or have dose changes to existing ones, your blood pressure will need to be checked more than once a year.
Check with your healthcare team how often to measure your blood pressure at home if you have your own monitor. Try keeping a diary of your readings – this will help your healthcare team spot patterns, and it might be motivating to see how your blood pressure improve over time.
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Many people with high blood pressure feel fine, so it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.
Discover the causes and symptoms of a stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, causing brain damage.
Learn about the causes of a heart attack, how a heart attack is diagnosed, treated and how to take care of yourself at home and in the hospital.
This short leaflet explains why being inactive increases your risk of heart and circulatory diseases and provides tips to help you be more active.
This short leaflet explains why being overweight increases your risk of heart and circulatory diseases, and gives advice on keeping a healthy weight.
This short leaflet is for people who have high blood pressure, or are at risk of having it.
We’ve followed an eight-step process to make sure this content is reliable, accurate and trustworthy. Learn how we make our health information reliable and easy to understand.

Page last updated: March 2023
Next update due: March 2026
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