EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My GP has told me that I have high blood pressure and need to start some tablets. What causes high blood pressure?"

The simple answer is that high blood pressure – also known as hypertension – is caused by lots of different things. It is one of those conditions that you may not know you have, so if you see your GP, it may be worth getting it checked. High blood pressure, left untreated for a long time, can lead to an increased chance of having heart attacks, strokes and many other conditions.

However there are things that you can do to help yourself. If you are found to have a high blood pressure, then it is important to treat it, usually with a combination of lifestyle change and medication. Lifestyle change is stopping smoking, eating less salt and saturated fat, taking some exercise and losing weight if necessary. All of these things also help to prevent you getting high blood pressure, so it is never too early to start making changes whenever you can.

The general rule is that blood pressure should be below 140/80 mmHg (that’s millimetres of mercury), although in some people it needs to be lower than this to help prevent further problems.

There are lots of different types of medication that your GP may choose to use. It is often a question of trial and error to see which drugs suits you the best, to make sure you do not develop side effects and that your blood pressure has dropped sufficiently (or not too low). Usually, your GP will start you on a low dose of a single tablet and review things a few weeks later. If your blood pressure has not reached the target, then they may either increase the dose of medication, or add in a second agent. Some people may require 3, 4 or even 5 different types of blood pressure lowering tablets to get it under control. Many people feel as though they ‘rattle’ and are a walking chemist. However, it is important to remember that the tablets are keeping you well. At the end of the day it is your choice, and you can decide whether you wish to take the tablets or not, but you need to understand the potential consequences of not taking them.

As with all medication, if you experience what you think may be side effects or are unhappy with what you are being asked to take, do not just stop them, but discuss your concerns with your GP first.