I have high blood pressure

In brief

In brief

  • Blood pressure is the pressure in your blood vessels.
  • Blood pressure that is too high increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke.
  • Important rules to live by are:
    • quitting smoking
    • getting more exercise
    • a healthier diet
    • reducing stress
  • This lowers your risk.
  • Medication to lower blood pressure is not always necessary.
  • Dutch healthcare practices in general may differ from what you are used to in your home country. Learn more.


What is it?

What is normal and high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure in your blood vessels.

  • When your heart contracts, it pumps blood into your body. The pressure in your blood vessels is at its highest then. That is called systolic pressure.
  • When your heart rests again, the pressure is lower. That is called diastolic pressure.
  • Your blood pressure changes constantly. When you run fast, your blood pressure is higher than when you sit quietly.

To measure your blood pressure properly, you first need to sit quietly for at least 5 minutes. An example of normal blood pressure while you’re sitting quietly is:

  • Systolic pressure: 130
  • Diastolic pressure: 85

To find out whether you have high blood pressure, we mainly look at the systolic pressure. More measurements are needed to tell if you really have high blood pressure.
2 or 3 measurements on the same day, and also on different days over several months.
If these measurements show that the average systolic pressure is 140 or higher, we call this high blood pressure.

If you are over 70 years old, an average systolic pressure of less than 150 is still good.

What will I notice?

Symptoms of high blood pressure

You usually won’t notice if you have high blood pressure. It usually does not cause any symptoms.

Only with extremely high blood pressure, you can be dizzy, have blurred vision, a headache or vomit.


What is the cause of my high blood pressure?

Usually no clear cause for high blood pressure can be found.

The chance of high blood pressure gets slightly higher as you grow older. This is because the blood vessels get narrower or stiffer. This is called atherosclerosis.

High blood pressure occurs more often in some families.

High blood pressure can also be caused by:

  • being overweight (in Dutch)
  • smoking
  • too much salt
  • too much liquorice
  • too much alcohol
  • fatty foods
  • certain medication, such as some painkillers (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac) or corticosteroids (prednisone)
  • taking the birth control pill

Smoking, fatty foods, alcohol and being overweight can make your blood vessels narrower and stiffer. This can cause the blood pressure to increase.

In rare cases, high blood pressure is caused by a kidney disorder.

Should I be worried about it?

Should I be worried about high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is not a disease. But having high blood pressure for a long time does increase your risk of cardiovascular disease (in Dutch), such as a stroke or a heart attack.

Other factors also increase that risk (in Dutch), such as high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and being overweight.


Advice for high blood pressure

By following the advice below, you decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Sometimes these measures also lower the blood pressure.

  • Quitting smoking (in Dutch) is the most important measure. Smoking is very damaging to your heart and blood vessels.
  • Make sure you get enough exercise (in Dutch). Exercise actively at least 2.5 hours a week (for example, walking, cycling, running, football (soccer), fitness training, dancing, martial arts). Also do activities that strengthen the muscles and bones, such as muscle toning exercises or strength training.
  • Maintain a healthy diet (in Dutch).
    It is also better not to eat liquorice. Eating a lot of liquorice and eating it often can increase blood pressure. This is not because of the salt but because of another substance (glycyrrizin) in the liquorice. Liquorice tea also contains this substance, so don’t drink too much of it.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol (in Dutch). If you do, then don’t drink every day and not more than 1 glass a day.
  • If you are overweight (in Dutch), try to lose weight by eating healthily and exercising more (exercising intensively at least 1 hour a day).
  • If you have a lot of stress, try to find out what’s causing it. Try to reduce your stress.
    Your GP can help you find the cause of your stress.
    Sometimes a social worker or psychologist can help.
    Also watch the video ‘What can you do to feel good?’.
Do I need medication?

Do I need medication for high blood pressure?

Whether or not your GP recommends medication depends on your personal risk of cardiovascular disease.

Your GP can estimate this risk (in Dutch). He or she will look at your other risk factors, such as your age, whether you smoke, how much you exercise and your cholesterol.

Medication is also usually required if you have severely high blood pressure (a systolic pressure of 180 or higher).

What happens next

What happens next if you have high blood pressure?

  • How often you have to visit your GP for a check-up depends on other factors that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • A healthy lifestyle (in Dutch) is always important, even if you no longer have high blood pressure.
  • Once a year, you and your GP will look at your risk of cardiovascular disease.
    Has it decreased because you have quit smoking? Or because you exercise a lot now and have lost weight? Or has something else happened that has caused your risk to increase rather than decrease? If the risk has increased, you may be prescribed medication to lower your blood pressure.
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