How to manage high blood pressure

High blood pressure can happen without any obvious warning signs. So, what exactly is it and how can you control it?

One in three Australians lives with high blood pressure, putting them potentially at risk for long-term conditions such as heart failure, chronic kidney disease and dementia.

But high blood pressure – also known as hypertension – can easily go undetected, with the Stroke Foundation reporting around 82 per cent of people do not know they have a problem before a health check.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can often have devastating long-term effects.

It is associated with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, daytime tiredness and potentially dizziness.

Research has also linked hypertension in midlife to an increased risk of dementia and the likelihood for high blood pressure to persist into later in life.

“High blood pressure can affect literally every organ in your body, from our legs and feet to our heart and brains and anywhere in between,” Melbourne Heart Care cardiologist Dr Jonathan Lipshutz says.

“Once the damage is done it is often too late – prevention is the best cure.”

Conversely, an Australian study found optimal blood pressure can keep our brains six months younger than our actual age.

“Not only can healthy blood pressure keep us physically young by preventing many diseases that lead to premature death, it can also keep us mentally young as high blood pressure can also be a causal factor in dementia,” Dr Lipshutz says.

What causes high blood pressure?

Dr Lipshutz says different factors can influence blood pressure, including age, sex, family history, as well as numerous medical conditions.

“The biggest modifiable risk factor I see in my patients is weight, which is directly linked to blood pressure in a linear fashion,” Dr Lipshutz says.

“The more overweight we are, the more our blood pressure rises. Other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise also have a large influence over our blood pressure.”

Job stress can also have an effect, with a recent US study suggesting workers who faced workplace discrimination were likely to have an increased risk of stress and hypertension.

How to lower blood pressure

A normal blood pressure range is typically below a systolic BP of 120.

Heart Foundation health care programs manager Natalie Raffoul says keeping blood pressure at an optimum range can come down to making key lifestyle changes.

A balanced diet

“Eat a healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables and whole grains and low in saturated and trans fats, and reduce your salt intake as high salt diets have been linked to high blood pressure,” she says.

Stay active

“Exercise or being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day has also been shown to reduce your blood pressure and manage other conditions that are associated with high blood pressure such as maintaining a healthy weight.”

Butt out

“Quitting smoking is also a really important one to reduce your risks,” Natalie says.

Rest well

Getting to bed at a regular time and sleeping for a consistent duration may also help manage your blood pressure, according to a Flinders University study.

The study found sleep duration irregularity increased hypertension risk by 9-15 per cent, while inconsistent sleep onset could boost risk by 29 per cent.

Monitoring high blood pressure

High blood pressure can often present no signs or symptoms so it’s important to keep an eye on it.

You can do this at home (check out the Heart Foundation’s guide to monitoring blood pressure), however Natalie recommends anyone over the age of 18 get their blood pressure checked at least every two years by a professional.

From age 45, you should book in for a heart health check with your GP to make a better assessment of your risk of future heart disease.

For more on cardiovascular health:

Originally published in 2022. Updated by Melissa Hong in September 2023.