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14th January, 20214 min read

What are the health risks of having high blood pressure?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Caroline Bodian
Last reviewed: 30/12/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

High blood pressure is common, but because it doesn’t usually cause symptoms, you won’t always know if you have it.

If it’s left untreated, however, you’re more likely to get other health problems. This means it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.

Read on to learn what increases your chances of high blood pressure, and what having it might mean for your health.

How is blood pressure measured?

If you’ve ever had your blood pressure checked, you’ll know that it's measured as 2 numbers – 120/80, for example. The higher number is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body, known as systolic pressure. The lower number is when your heart rests between beats, known as diastolic pressure.

Blood pressure should generally be between 90/60 and 120/80.

Are some people more likely to have high blood pressure?

Everyone’s blood pressure varies, but some people are more at risk of high blood pressure than others.

High blood pressure is more common in people who are of Black African, Black Caribbean, Chinese, Japanese, East Asian or Asian Pacific origin. It also occurs more often in older people – particularly those aged 65 or over.

People who are overweight or obese are also more likely to have high blood pressure. In fact, high blood pressure is thought to be twice as common among people who are obese.

What else can increase your risk of high blood pressure?

Often, it’s not clear what causes high blood pressure. But other things that can increase your risk include:

  • having a relative with high blood pressure
  • smoking
  • eating too much salt and not enough fruit and vegetables
  • drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
  • not getting enough sleep
  • not doing enough exercise

The good news is that making changes to your lifestyle, such as improving your diet and exercising regularly, can help lower your blood pressure or prevent it from getting too high.

Less commonly, high blood pressure can be linked to an underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, a hormone disorder or obstructive sleep apnoea (pauses in breathing when you’re asleep).

What health problems are more likely if you have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure increases your risk of certain conditions, including:

If you have diabetes, you should get your blood pressure checked regularly, as both diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart and kidney disease.

And if you’re pregnant, high blood pressure can put you and your baby at risk, so you should have routine checks throughout your pregnancy.

Thankfully, if you control high blood pressure with lifestyle changes or medicine, you can reduce your risk of complications. Losing weight, exercising more often and cutting down on salt and alcohol are all steps in the right direction.

When to see a doctor

Even if you’ve never had any issues with your blood pressure, it’s a good idea to get it checked at least once every five years. Your doctor can do this for you, or you may be able to get it checked at a pharmacy.

Key points

  • some people are more likely to have high blood pressure because of their age or ethnic origin
  • factors such as your weight and lifestyle can also increase your risk
  • high blood pressure increases your chances of getting certain health problems, including kidney disease, heart attack and stroke
  • having both diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart and kidney disease
  • if you’re pregnant, you should get regular blood pressure checks
  • everyone should have a blood pressure check at least once every five years
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.