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Blood pressure is defined as the amount of pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries as the blood moves through them. It is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are measured, and these figures are usually represented with the systolic pressure first, followed by the diastolic pressure.

High blood pressure often causes no symptoms or immediate problems, but it is a major risk factor for developing a serious cardiovascular disease (conditions that can affect the circulation of blood around the body), such as a stroke or heart disease.

If you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. Over time, this can weaken it. Also, the increased pressure can damage the walls of your arteries, which can result in a blockage or cause the artery to split (haemorrhage).

Both of these situations can cause a stroke.

High blood pressure is common, with 40% of adults in England having the condition. The number of people who have high blood pressure increases with age. For reasons that are not entirely understood, people of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian (India, Pakistan and Bangladeshi) origins are more likely to develop high blood pressure than other ethnic groups.

In 95% of cases, there is no single identifiable reason for a raise in blood pressure. However, all available evidence shows that your lifestyle plays a significant role in regulating your blood pressure. Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

High blood pressure can be treated or prevented by making changes to your lifestyle, such as exercising more regularly, eating a healthier diet and cutting back on your consumption of alcohol. Medicines are also available that can help lower your blood pressure. Symptoms Symptoms of high blood pressure

If your blood pressure is slightly high and your GP feels that the risks of cardiovascular disease are low, you should be able to get your blood pressure under control by making some simple changes to your lifestyle, such as modifying your diet and taking regular exercise.

If your blood pressure is moderately high, or your GP feels that your risks of developing a cardiovascular disease in the next ten years is higher than one in five, you will be given medicines, as well as being advised to make changes to your lifestyle.

It should be stressed that even achieving a relatively low drop in blood pressure can have significant health benefits. For example, a reduction of 5 mmHg in your diastolic blood pressure will reduce the chances of you having a stroke by 34%, and of developing heart disease by 20%.

For many people with high blood pressure, it is recommended that they take blood pressure lowering medicines for the rest of their lives. However, if your blood pressure levels remain under control for several years, it may be possible to discontinue treatment.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors work by blocking the actions of some of the hormones that help regulate blood pressure. By stopping these hormones from working, the medicines help reduce the amount of water in your blood and also widen your arteries, both of which will bring your blood pressure down.

ACE inhibitors have been known to reduce the supply of blood to the kidneys which can reduce their efficiency. Therefore, blood and urine tests may be carried out before you start taking ACE inhibitors to make sure that there are no pre-existing problems with your kidneys.

Beta-blockers used to be a popular treatment for high blood pressure, but now they only tend to be used when other treatments have not proved successful. This is because beta-blockers have more potential side effects than the other medicines that are used to treat high blood pressure.

Research has shown that different blood pressure lowering medicines work better for different ethnic groups. For example, ACE inhibitors are a more effective as a first choice medicine for treating high blood pressure in white people, whereas calcium channel blockers, or thiazide diuretics, tend to work better as a first choice medicine for black people.

It is thought that this is due to the fact that black people tend to have a lower level of renin in their blood. Renin is an enzyme that helps to regulate blood pressure. ACE Inhibitors work best where there is a high level of renin in the blood, so they often prove not as effective in treating black people with high blood pressure.