Hypertension affects one in four adults and is usually treated with medication, even though lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure. Here’s what you need to know



Health



13 May 2020

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LAST year, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension. “Why me?” I asked. “I exercise regularly, I’m not overweight, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink excessively. I even meditate.”

At first, I doubted the diagnosis. Admittedly, my blood pressure had been up in a routine consultation. But when I monitored it at home over the following week, the measurements differed every time, even from one minute to the next. Besides, the average of these readings wasn’t much above the normal range. Yet my doctor had recommended pills to bring the pressure down. Why act on such shifting figures? How do the pills work? Are they safe? Is high blood pressure really a problem anyway? And, again, why me?

Now I know that hypertension increases the risk of death from covid-19, I am even more motivated to get to the bottom of it. And I am surely not alone. One in four adults have high blood pressure – that is some 16 million people in the UK and around a billion worldwide – and, globally, its prevalence is rising, especially in the developing world. It is linked with stress and occurs more often among certain groups of people, including smokers, heavy drinkers and those who are pregnant, inactive or overweight. But there is so much about this common condition that remains a mystery, even to people diagnosed with it. That wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted answers, so I decided to look into it myself.

The first thing I discovered was that the quest to quantify blood pressure has a colourful history …



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