Blood pressure is the force that blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. If your blood pressure is high (hypertension), it puts you at greater risk of a stroke, heart attack and kidney problems. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so you can only find out whether you have it if you're checked by a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
A stroke is a "brain attack". It happens when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted. This is often caused by a narrowing of blood vessels, which occurs due to a build-up of fatty material on the artery walls (atherosclerosis) or by blood clotting. Older people and those with high blood pressure, uneven heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), high cholesterol and diabetes also have a higher risk of stroke.
Professor Graham MacGregor of the Blood Pressure Association says, "It's not fully understood why African Caribbean people are likely to have high blood pressure. However, we know that a healthy diet, exercise and awareness can make a vital difference to preventing early death from stroke, heart attack or heart disease."
You can take steps to reduce your risk of high blood pressure (see below). They will also help lower blood pressure if it is already high, and reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Smoking doubles your risk of a stroke because it causes the arteries to become "furry" and makes the blood more likely to develop clots. Read about getting help to stop smoking.
Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure. If you keep your alcohol intake within the healthy guidelines, the occasional drink will not increase blood pressure or stroke risk.
Recommended limits are:
- two to three units a day for women
- three to four units a day for men
Have a healthy diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can lower your risk of high blood pressure. A healthy balanced diet includes:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables - you can get tips on getting your 5 A DAY
- plenty of potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy foods (choose wholegrain versions where possible)
- some milk and dairy (choose lower-fat options)
- some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- just a small amount of foods and drinks that are high in fat or sugar
You can cut down on salt (which is a major cause of high blood pressure) by checking the labels of processed foods and not adding salt to your food. Read more on how to cut down salt.
Try to cut down on foods that have been marinated or preserved in salt. "We recommend using fresh herbs and spices instead of very salt-rich seasonings," says Graham.
You can lower your intake of saturated fat (which hardens the arteries) by avoiding or eating less red meat. Eat fish and poultry, such as chicken, without the skin instead.
The eatwell plate shows the kinds of foods we need to eat - and how much - in order to have a healthy diet.
The Blood Pressure Association offers recipes for low salt meals.
Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes, five times a week) helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. You don't have to go to the gym. You can do any activity that leaves you feeling slightly out of breath. This could be walking, dancing or gardening, for example. Find out more about exercise and keeping active.
If you're not used to exercising, take it slowly at first. If you have high blood pressure or have had a stroke, talk to your doctor about the right level of exercise for you.
These getting started guides offer inspiration on ways to get more active:
- getting started: swimming
- getting started: dancing
- getting started: walking
- getting started: cycling
- getting started: running
Signs of stroke
The Stroke Association's Face Arm Speech Test (FAST) lists the main symptoms to look out for:
- Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
- Arm weakness. Can the person raise both arms?
- Speech problems. Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
- Test all three symptoms. If you have any of them, call 999. Acting fast reduces the risk of death or disability.
Article provided by NHS Choices