The health issue that affects one in four adults

A new annual survey has uncovered the shocking statistic that one in four adults in England has high blood pressure, a condition that can cause long-term debilitating illness.

The Health Survey for England, carried out by the Joint Health Surveys Unit of the National Centre for Social Research and the Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCL, found that 28 per cent of adults had high blood pressure (hypertension), with 12 per cent of adults having untreated hypertension.

Marco La Malfa, medical director at Care UK’s Barlborough NHS Treatment Centre, says the statistic is concerning: “High blood pressure not only creates unpleasant symptoms in itself, such as headaches, blurred vision and shortness of breath, but having persistently high blood pressure is associated with developing a number of serious medical conditions, such as vascular dementia, strokes, heart disease – or failure – and kidney disease. All are conditions that could turn a happy retirement into a not so happy old age.”

The survey sampled more than 8,000 adults living in England. Looking at the results, some reasons for the significant numbers of people living with high blood pressure become more understandable.

One of the main causes of high blood pressure is being significantly overweight. People who are obese have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 to 39.9 while a BMI of 40 or above indicates a person is severely obese. The survey found 26 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women were obese, while 40 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women were overweight, with a BMI of between 25 and 29.9.

Lack of exercise contributes to obesity and high blood pressure. The survey found almost one-third of men failed to achieve the government’s recommended weekly exercise guidelines, while 42 per cent of women failed to achieve the weekly 150 minutes of recommended exercise.

A significant proportion of survey participants also failed to meet the government guidelines limiting alcohol intake to 14 units a week, with one-third of men (31 per cent) and approximately one in six women (16 per cent) usually drinking more than the recommended units each week.

Marco said: “The good news is there is much we can do, both medically, and in terms of lifestyle that will help to reduce blood pressure and its causes. This will not only help to make people feel healthier with more energy, but it will also help to greatly reduce the risk of the serious health conditions that accompany persistent high blood pressure.”

Marco’s tips to reduce the risk of high blood pressure

  • Fill half your lunch and dinner plate with vegetables. Not only will this help you to maintain a healthy weight, but vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to protect the body.
  • Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not the enemy. They are filling, packed with fibre and help to maintain a healthy gut. Wholemeal pasta, whole grains, rice and bread, as well as potatoes, should make up just over one-third of the food we eat. They are filling, packed with fibre and they allow a slow release of energy.
  • Be careful what salt you add to food and minimise the amount of sugar and salt-laden ready meals you eat. According to NHS Choices, 75 per cent of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereals and ready meals. Salt raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure. Aim to eat less than 6g (0.2oz) of salt a day, which is about a teaspoonful.
  • Follow the government guidelines on exercise and alcohol. They are not hard to achieve and they may save your life. You can complete your 150 minutes by taking a brisk walk every weekday lunchtime and you can boost it by using the stairs and not the escalator or lift.As for alcohol, ensure you have several days a week alcohol free and drink water between alcoholic drinks. Also, go for quality, not quantity, and avoid high alcohol content drinks that could see you easily drinking more units than you anticipated.
  • Some people do not experience any symptoms of high blood pressure, so everyone aged over 50 should get a yearly blood pressure check. A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you are at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep it under control. Many local pharmacies are able to test your blood pressure without you needing to make an appointment. A good pharmacist will be able to then tell you whether or not you need to see a GP and offer some advice on things you can do to keep it normal or bring it down.