High blood pressure symptoms: Three signs you may have reached a ‘life-threatening stage’

High blood pressure affects around a third of adults in the UK, but many people won’t realise they have it. If the condition is left untreated it can increase the risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes. According to Mayo Clinic most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels.


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But it advises three symptoms a few people with high blood pressure may experience.

It says: “A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.”

The American Heart Association adds: “The best evidence indicates that high blood pressure does not cause headaches or nosebleeds, except in the case of hypertensive crisis, a medical emergency when blood pressure is 180/120mmHg or higher.

“If your high blood pressure is unusually high and you have headache or nosebleed and are feeling unwell, wait five minutes and retest.”

If your reading remains at 180/120mmHg or higher it advises to cal the emergency services.

It continues: “If you are experiencing severe headaches or nosebleeds and are otherwise unwell, contact your doctor as they could be symptoms of other health conditions.”

In the UK, high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher or 150/90mmHg or higher if you’re over the age of 80.

Ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.

The higher number is the systolic pressure – the force at which the heart pumps blood around the body.

The lower number if the diastolic pressure – the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.

The best way to find out if you have high blood pressure and to prevent is to have your blood pressure reading regularly checked.

Mayo Clinic advises: “Ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least every two years starting at age 18.


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“If you’re age 40 or older, or you’re 18 to 39 with a high risk of high blood pressure, ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every year.

“Blood pressure generally should be checked in both arms to determine if there’s a difference. It’s important to use an appropriate-sized arm cuff.

“Your doctor will likely recommend more frequent readings if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”

High blood pressure causes

It’s not clear exactly what causes high blood pressure, but there are a number of factors that can rise the risk of the condition developing.

According to the NHS these include:

  • Age – the risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you get older
  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Being of African or Caribbean origin
  • A high amount of salt in your food
  • Lack of exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Long-term sleep deprivation

How to keep blood pressure in check

High blood pressure can often be prevented or reduced by eating a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The NHS advises cutting down on the amount of salt in your food, as this can raise blood pressure, and to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.

Limiting alcohol intake, losing weight, cutting down on caffeine and stopping smoking can also help keep blood pressure in check.

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