High blood pressure: facts, errors and what you can do about it


Chronic high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a widespread disease: it is estimated that up to 10 million people in Germany are affected. High blood pressure comes on gradually and can lead to a stroke or heart attack in the long term if left untreated. It is therefore important to know the symptoms and have your blood pressure measured regularly. But how do you recognize high blood pressure? Is it true that only older and overweight people are affected? And how can you lower your blood pressure? We clarify the facts - and dispel common myths.

Systole, diastole, blood pressure: that's what happens in the body

The heart transports oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to all parts of the body. Sometimes the blood travels a long way: that is why the heart has to pump properly, which also manifests itself as a pulse. The heart muscle contracts and creates pressure to squeeze blood out of the ventricle. This upper blood pressure value is called systole. It then relaxes again and the pressure decreases to allow blood to flow into the chamber. This lower blood pressure value is called diastole.

The blood pressure of a healthy person fluctuates throughout the day. In a relaxed state it drops, but it rises during exertion: this is quite normal. Only when the blood pressure in the arteries is constantly high do we speak of high blood pressure.

Stress, overweight, genes: Where does high blood pressure come from?

Medicine distinguishes between primary and secondary high blood pressure. Primary hypertension is present in about 90 percent of cases. Concrete causes are not known. However, we can assume that certain factors favour primary high blood pressure. For example, menopausal women are often affected.

Primary high blood pressure - risk factors:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Age (women from 65 years, men from 55 years)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Overweight
  • Potassium deficiency
  • Smoking
  • High alcohol consumption
  • High salt consumption
  • Stress

Secondary hypertension occurs comparatively rarely - triggered by other diseases.

Secondary high blood pressure - causes:

  • Renal diseases (e.g. narrowing of the renal arteries, chronic kidney disease)
  • Vascular diseases (e.g. narrowing of the aorta)
  • Metabolic disorders (e.g. Cushing's syndrome)
  • Medication (e.g. birth control pill, anti-rheumatic drugs)

A common misconception is that high blood pressure is a sign of aging or only occurs in people who are overweight. In addition, genetic predisposition, stress and an unhealthy lifestyle also play a role. The fact is that even younger and normal-weight people can have high blood pressure.

+++ Read our magazine article "Stress: Symptoms and consequences of stress on body & psyche" +++

Detect high blood pressure: These are the symptoms

Many sufferers only become suspicious when serious symptoms occur. Why have an examination when you feel fit and healthy? A fallacy: Because high blood pressure can go unnoticed for a long time and that is why it is so dangerous. Cardiologists agree: If high blood pressure is detected early, it can be treated well. That is why everyone over 40 years of age should have their blood pressure measured at least once a year. From the age of 50, even every 6 months.

In addition, there are a number of symptoms that can indicate high blood pressure. These include:

  • Flushing
  • Morning headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Nervousness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea

A red head does not always indicate high blood pressure. Not all sufferers blush when excited. And this list is no substitute for going to the doctor. If in doubt, it is better to have another examination.

Blood pressure values: When does it become critical?

Doctors usually measure blood pressure briefly at rest. In certain cases, a 24-hour measurement may also be necessary. The unit of measurement for blood pressure is mmHg (millimetres of mercury). A reading of 120/80 ("120 to 80") therefore means that the systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg and the diastolic is 80 mmHg.

The following values apply to blood pressure measurement:

Ideal: up to 120/to 80
Normal: 120-129/80-84
High Normal: 130-139/85-89
Mild hypertension: 140-159/90-99
Moderate high blood pressure: 160-179/100-109
Severe high blood pressure: from 180/ab 110

The limit value from normal to elevated blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg.

Measure blood pressure values: You should note this

Blood pressure measurement is one of the routine examinations performed by a family doctor. The nurse places a pressure cuff around your upper arm and pumps it up to about 200 mmHg. Then she slowly releases the air from the cuff and can hear flow sounds through the crook of your arm with the stethoscope. These mark the systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, you must also measure your values yourself. Ask your doctor or health care professional to show you how to do this.

More tips for measuring blood pressure at home:

  • Take your time: Relax at least 5 minutes before taking your blood pressure.
  • Place the deflated cuff at heart level.
  • Do not move: Sit still during the measurement.
  • If you want to be sure: Measure twice in a row, with a break in between.
  • Make a note of the readings and bring them with you to your next visit to the doctor.

Lower your blood pressure: You can do this

First and foremost: prevention is the best medicine. Exercise daily. Avoid sitting for long periods without interruption. The German Heart Foundation recommends getting up from your desk more often during a long office day and walking a few steps. It is even better if you do half an hour of sport several times a week - preferably cardio training.

Many people believe that blood pressure patients need to take extra care of themselves. This is also a myth: the best treatment successes are achieved if you combine the medication with enough exercise. This does not mean running a marathon or going to the gym every day. Lifting heavy weights is actually not a good idea because your blood pressure can rise too quickly. But a half-hour walk a day can be very effective.

Keep moving with endurance sports like jogging, swimming, cycling or Nordic walking. Yoga and autogenic training help reduce stress and help to lower blood pressure naturally.

Balanced and healthy instead of greasy and oversalted: even the right diet keeps blood pressure constant. Opt for a Mediterranean diet:

  • Fruit and vegetables at every meal (a salad as a side dish, fruit for dessert)
  • Whole grain products (whole grain bread, oat flakes)
  • More vegetable fats (olive oil, linseed oil), less animal fats
  • Low-fat dairy products (cottage cheese, low-fat quark)
  • Low salt food

Enjoy the coffee in the morning and the glass of wine in the evening - as long as it remains in moderation. And avoid smoking if possible. Your heart will thank you for it.