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Hypertension: how is it diagnosed?

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 2 min read

If you’re found to have high blood pressure (BP) on one occasion, you should make an appointment with your doctor or practice nurse to have this rechecked. It’s not diagnosed based on just one reading – they want to have a few. They will likely lend you a BP machine (or you may have one at home) and they will advise you to keep a BP diary, with a week of readings taken at different times of the day. Hypertension is diagnosed on what the majority of readings show.

A BP machine gives you a fraction number – if home readings are consistently over 140/90 mmHg, they may suggest starting treatment.

When should I get it checked?

Certain groups are at higher risk of developing hypertension. If you fall into one of the following categories, ask your doctor's surgery for a BP check or check it at your local pharmacy.

Age is the biggest risk, especially those over 65. Those aged over 40 can request a NHS Health Check which includes BP and a blood test for diabetes, high cholesterol and kidney function. This is a one-off, unless something is diagnosed, but you should have your BP checked as least every five years after the age of 40.

Who else is at risk?

Other high-risk groups include those who are black African or black Caribbean or those with a close family member diagnosed with high BP at an early age. Other factors include if you live in a deprived area, if you smoke, drink excess alcohol, or lots of coffee or other caffeinated drinks, if you are overweight, eat a diet high in salt, fats, and sugars and low in fruit and vegetables, or if you lead a high-stress lifestyle.

If any of these circumstances apply to you, you should get your BP checked.

Is treatment ever started immediately?

Treatment might be started before waiting for home BP readings if you are found to have very high BP, called severe hypertension. This is if your systolic BP (the top number) is 180 mmHg or high or your diastolic is 110 mmHg or higher.

If you are not already on medication, you will be started then and followed up within a few days until an acceptable level is reached. Doctors are cautious to bring this down too quickly, so you will be closely monitored.

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