Book menuHYPERTENSION - Introduction 

High blood pressure, or hypertension as it is properly called, is the most common reason Australian adults see their doctor for a regular check-up. It is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke, and frequently causes damage to the arterial blood vessels, the eyes and kidneys. Prolonged hypertension also causes enlargement of the heart and may lead to heart failure.

The improved treatment of hypertension is one of the real success stories of medicine over the last few decades; the 60% drop in the death-rate from stroke is thought to be largely due to better control of blood pressure.

About 20% of Australian adults have hypertension. By the age of 65 the incidence rises to about 40%. Yet only 50% of people with high blood pressure are aware that they have the condition. Most people with high blood pressure feel perfectly well. There are no reliable warning signs to prompt the person to see the doctor in the first place; more often than not it is picked up by chance on a routine medical examination.

Our circulation works because blood is pumped around the body by the heart. ( see also Heart Foundation). The flow and pressure of blood in the arteries rises with each pump or pulse; this is the systolic or higher pressure reading. The resting or lower pressure between each pulse is called the diastolic pressure. A person's blood pressure reading includes both figures, systolic/diastolic, expressed in millimetres of (mild hypertension) or say 225/115 (severe hypertension). Although 140/90 was long regarded as the upper limit of the normal range, the most recent guidelines suggest that we aim for 130/85 or lower. This is especially important if there happens to be other risk factors present, such as diabetes or a high blood cholesterol level. In elderly patients a slightly higher figure may be quite acceptable.

This leaflet cannot be completely comprehensive and is intended as a guide only The information may change in the future. Visit relevant website for updates. If you have further questions you should raise them with your own doctor.